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L.A. Scene The City Then and Now

October 11, 1993|CECILIA RASMUSSEN

In the heady years of hope and expansion in Los Angeles after World War II, the cheapest beer in town was a bubbly, golden concoction called Brew 102.

In a working man's town, it was the working man's beer--nothing fancy or subtle about it. Long before the popularity of fancy designer beers from Germany, this was the real stuff--real local brew. One old-timer remarked that it had a somewhat yucky taste, "but I also remember if you drank it cold, it tasted like beer."

Brew 102 has a long heritage in Los Angeles: Its predecessors were around under one name or another for 97 years.

The new name was the brainchild of a bunch of 1940s advertising executives who worked for the Maier Brewing Co.--then the fifth-largest brewer in the state. To boost the flagging sales of its trademark Maier Beer, the executives decided to re-market an identical brew with a new name and a catchy new jingle.

"More than 100 beers we did brew,

Perfecting the new finer Brew 102.

In the East and the West, Maier Beer is the best, wonderful, wonderful, Brew 102."

Just as Chanel No. 5 got its name because it was the fifth test fragrance that Coco Chanel concocted, Maier Beer become Brew 102.

It was an immediate success.

The home of Brew 102 was a hulking industrial facility next to the Santa Ana Freeway. There were no frills to this building, no effort to conjure up the vision of a quaint Bavarian brewery.

With its bare brick walls and corrugated steel roof, the building seemed to proclaim to the motorists cruising past: "We make beer . . . lots of it."

At its height in the 1950s, the Maier Brewery was turning out 370,000 barrels of Maier, Brew 102 and other private labels each day.

The original Los Angeles brewery--known as the Philadelphia Brew House--was built in 1875 at 400 Aliso St. on the site of the Aliso family vineyard and winery, which embraced much of the land between Union Station and the Los Angeles River.

In 1882, owner George Zobelein took on German immigrant Joseph Maier as his partner. They renamed the brewery Maier and Zobelein. It was a congenial place: Brew masters adjusted the recipe to suit their taste, and carts trundled samples to brewery employees all day.

Maier and Zobelein's partnership lasted almost a quarter-century, until Maier died in 1904, leaving his half of the business to his two sons. Three years later, after a bitter disagreement with them, Zobelein left and purchased the Los Angeles Brewing Co.

Over the next 70 years, Zobelein's product became known as Eastside and then Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, after that company bought it out. But one building always bore the name Eastside and until it closed in the 1970s, the locals still called it Eastside.

Joseph Maier's younger son, Eddie, became the head of the renamed Maier Brewing Co. After the elder son, Fred, died in 1910, Eddie also inherited the Vernon Tigers, a baseball team in the Pacific Coast League. The Tigers proved to be a bargain. Under Eddie Maier, the Tigers won three consecutive Pacific League pennants from 1918 to 1920. Fred Maier had paid $1 for them. His brother later sold the team for $225,000.

Eddie's brewery became a hangout for famous sportsmen, including speed king Barney Oldfield and boxing champions Jim Jeffries and Jack Dempsey. Maier once staged a steak-eating contest; Frank Chance, manager of the Chicago Cubs, beat New York Giant's manager John McGraw, consuming 12 T-bone steaks in one evening.

But beer troubles were brewing; Maier would struggle through 13 years of Prohibition, operating within the law by making "near beer," with a 0.5% alcohol content.

Then, on March 29, 1932, federal Prohibition agents raided the brewery after two employees were caught selling beer that was too strong to be legal. One pleaded guilty and was fined $50; charges against the other employee were dismissed.

By the time Prohibition ended in December, 1933, Los Angeles had a dozen breweries and Maier went back to concocting more potent beer.

Ten years later, Eddie Maier died in a fire in his Malibu home.

As Angelenos cultivated a taste for foreign and premium beers, Maier Brewing Co. began to fall by the wayside. ABC Brewing took over the plant until 1958, when the old brewery was purchased by San Francisco beer magnate Paul Kalmanovitz.

In 1972, the suds of Brew 102 stopped flowing in Los Angeles. The old brewery closed; 102 was made in Tumwater, Wash. It is still sold by a few mom-and-pop stores in Los Angeles. The shutdown ended almost a century of the pungent aroma of malted barley, hops and freshly brewed beer in the shadow of the Civic Center.

The huge copper kettles from Los Angeles' oldest brewery, kettles the employees used to fill with water and go swimming in when the week's batch of beer was done, were abandoned. The building became an unofficial refuge for the homeless for 13 years. The pots and kettles that were not stolen were sold for scrap before the buildings were torn down in 1985 for a parking lot.

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