Last call for Columbia Heidelberg Brewery buildings?

CORRECTION / EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this article incorrectly noted that Strand Investors, the owner of the Columbia Heidelberg Brewery complex slated to be demolished, had at one point presented a plan to build a new hotel on the existing site and the adjacent site. That was incorrect. The article has been updated to correct this error. We apologize for the error.

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The City of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission is scheduled Jan. 12 to review a request to demolish the former Columbia Heidelberg Brewery complex in downtown Tacoma’s historic Union Station Conservation District.

The Columbia Heidelberg name has a century-old history in Tacoma, but decades of re-modeling and new construction followed by neglect have left the complex — which includes an office building, brew house, and facilities for storage, tankage, and bottling — stripped of most of its historic significance, according to several studies. A historic buildings inventory report completed in 2003 noted “expansion has totally destroyed any traces of the old brewery.” In a staff report prepared last week for the commission meeting, the city’s historic preservation office notes that “the earliest buildings present on the site date from post-Prohibition construction in the mid-1930s [and] significant remodeling and construction activities occurred in the 1950s and 1960s.” What’s more, on Nov. 10, 2010, the city’s public works department issued a dangerous building citation after an inspector noted substandard conditions such as “missing roof, unstable walls, open shafts, missing structural elements, lack of utility service, missing windows, loose and dangling building components, unstable equipment, unsafe electrical system, and standing water.”

The property owner, Strand Investors, has submitted a historic property report, a condition assessment report, and a structural report to support the demolition request.

According to Les Tonkin, a historical architect at Tonkin/Hoyne Architecture and Urban Design, the buildings cannot be saved or adaptively reused. “Unfortunately, the Heidelberg Brewery has suffered from fires and has decayed to a point where it is not economically feasible to save or restore most parts of its several adjoined buildings,” wrote Tonkin in his condition assessment report. “Generally, the building complex is in very poor condition. A large number of problems and concerns . . . are the result of age and lack of maintenance over the past years, and some concerns are the result of the poor quality of the original construction.”

The owner submitted a demolition application to the city’s permitting department, but did not submit an application to the Landmarks Preservation Commission — a requirement because the complex, located at 2120 South C Street, is within the Union Station Conservation District, adjacent to the Union-Depot Warehouse Historic district, and therefore requires the commission’s review.

A historic property report prepared by Katheryn H. Krafft of Krafft & Krafft Architecture notes that Columbia Brewing Company was established in 1900 when C. August Darmer built several wood-framed buildings to serve as the offices, brew house, bottling facility, and stacking room to produce three brands of Alt Heidelberg beer. During Prohibition, the brewery produced and bottled soft drinks and even a non-alcoholic “near” beer. In the 1930s, a group of Seattle investors purchased the complex and expanded its operation by adding then-modern equipment and doubling its size. A towering fire-proof brew house was the most visible addition. That expansion continued into the late-1930s when some of the original buildings were demolished to make way for a new barrel house, stock house, and cellar. In 1949, the complex was purchased by the Heidelberg Brewing Company but continued to operate as Columbia Breweries. More remodeling, expansion, and modernization followed the purchase. Four years later, the brewery was officially named Heidelberg Brewing Company and continued to expand its physical footprint. By 1954, the brewery covered four acres and was the largest complex of its kind west of Milwaukee and north of San Francisco. That same year, the iconic Heidelberg water tower was hoisted atop the stock house building. The brewery changed ownership several times between 1958 and 1979, when it eventually closed.

On Wednesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission could take one of three actions. It could find the building to be historically significant and spend the next 60 days collecting public comment and holding public hearings. It could find the building is not historically significant and allow the city to move forward with issuing a demolition permit. Finally, it could request additional information and open up a 30-day review period.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting will be held on Weds., Jan. 12 at 5 p.m. in the Tacoma Municipal Building North, 728 St. Helens, Room 16. For more information, visit .