Six-and-a-half million dollars. That is what it’s going to take to restore and preserve Tumwater’s historic Old Brewhouse Tower. The 1906 building built by the Schmidt family for their Olympia Brewing Company is made of red Chehalis brick and Tenino sandstone. Six-stories tall, it sits on the Deschutes River and is viewed by thousands every day from I-5. This iconic structure still stands proudly as a symbol of our area’s brewing past – and that is why the current restoration efforts of today are priceless when looking toward the future.
On November 30, 1905, our Nation’s flag was raised atop the Brewhouse Tower for the first time by the Schmidts. On May 30, 2019, it was raised once again, but this time by the City of Tumwater.
In 2016, the City of Tumwater was gifted the 12,000-square-foot tower (along with 12 surrounding feet of its circumference for access) by private developer George Heidgerken. Heidgerken still owns the surrounding buildings, but donated the Tower with the understanding that the City would take action to save and preserve the historic structure before it’s too late.
“We began working right away,” says Ann Cook, City of Tumwater’s communications manager and project manager for the Tower’s restoration. Emergency repairs were necessary to slow deterioration and to stabilize the Tower, but approved funds were not immediately available from the state. Businesses, community partners, and retirees from Carpenters Local Union 129 stepped up to construct a temporary roof and temporary window panels. General site clean-up was performed simultaneously with emergency repairs.
“It was the kind of work that people get paid very well to do” says Cook, “and they normally don’t donate it – like the crane work for example. At the City, we felt it was a really good litmus test and wherewithal of the community to support this financially. For us that was a signal that the community really wants this to happen because they mobilized so quickly.”
Tumwater local, Rozanne Garman, is the president and CEO of rhd Enterprises, an OMWBE-certified general contractor. With the emergency work completed on the Tower, the City was ready to begin a greater project and Garman’s company recently won the bid to begin work on Phase I for what will be a three-phase project to restore the Old Brewhouse Tower. “I am super proud,” she says, “to be a Tumwater business working on this project. To be continuing the history is so rewarding and I’m incredibly honored to be doing it.”
In this initial phase, Cook says, “what we are doing is keeping the building from falling down.” Phase II will include seismic retrofitting and Phase III will tackle all the windows, doors, finishes, and accessibility to allow public access to the Tower. Preservation of the Old Brewhouse Tower includes an adaptive reuse of the building with an interpretive space that celebrates the City’s brewing legacy, and future community gathering space. The draft interpretive plan includes continuing partnerships with the Olympia Tumwater Foundation to present and preserve the unique history of the site, and collaboration with other partners in the community to engage existing and new audiences with creative storytelling and events.
Since 1978, the Old Brewhouse Tower has been on the National Register of Historic Places, and that status dictates the materials used and the methodology of the rehabilitation work. Abstract Masonry Restoration out of Utah has been contracted to make repairs to the historic masonry and mortar. Cook shares that the company wasn’t even on the City’s radar until the owner of Abstract stopped into their office on the last day that the bid solicitation window was open. “They do this work all over the country and in Europe,” she says. “The owner teaches his craft to university-level students and that’s the type of mason we need on this project.”
“They have turned out to be an absolutely incredible partner,” Garman adds. “Amazing to work with, and they really care and are invested in the success of this project.”
The first part of the brickwork – happening now – is the cleaning, and then comes the repairing. 30,000 bricks are being replaced on the Tower and they had to be specially made because as Jamie Richter, project manager and supervisor for Abstract informs, the standard brick size changed in the early 1980s to match cinder block sizing. Jamie Price, rhd Enterprise’s project manager, reports that “parts of the building have brick that is so weathered, if you run your hand across it, it just crumbles.”
The Old Brewhouse Tower walls are five brick layers thick in some places, and Richter explains that “the mortar takes months and months to cure out to the right color because of the thickness and the humidity.” Abstract had to make a thinner sample to show the project architect what the mortar color will eventually look like when fully cured, because, according to Richter, it could take a year.
A masonry mock-up was reviewed and approved by the WA State Dept. of Archaeology and Historic Preservation to ensure that the work will meet national standards of the Registry. “The State Archaeology and Preservation Officer was very pleased with Abstract’s work,” Cook says. “He signed-off the same day and said their quality of work is excellent.”
Garman’s company is also no stranger to having a high-level of oversight, since she specializes in government and industrial construction. She’s used to working on military bases, so the reviews that the Historical Registry status dictate don’t delay her at all. She says, “It’s the same process, just a different stakeholder.”
She explains what is different is, “the community aspect of it all, and all of the people who care about how this goes and what the process looks like. It’s the heart of the community here, so there’s a lot of people looking at it.”
After all, Leopold Schmidt and his family employed the people of this area for 100 years. Schmidt first came for the water, and the Brewhouse that he built is still a community landmark. Before the Schmidts, Native Americans who first inhabited the site honored the area with water-centric names as well. The people were known as the Stehtsasamish and referred to the area as” SpEkwa’L” (cascade), “SpEkwa’l- b l c” (Waterfall, where there is), “TE’m-wata” (Chinook for waterfall, strong water), and “Pu-kal-bush” the Deschutes River at Tumwater. (Source).
It really is the water that has attracted people to this site for thousands of years, but as far as brewing is concerned, restoring the Tower is paramount in the regional plan to bring brewing back to our area as a sector of prominence. How beer is brewed in our area looks different now, but how the Old Brewhouse Tower looks will remain unchanged. Thanks to the restoration, the public can expect to finally access this site again, and Old Brewhouse Tower property will be open to the public after the final phase is complete – hopefully within five years.