After WWII

After the war, the brewery again was remodeled to a new appearance of enameled metal, plate glass front (of bottling house), and red tile building face. The capacity in early 1947 was 120,000 barrels of beer/year (approximately 1,000,000 cases of beer). A new bottle shop opened with a capacity of 260 bottles a minute that produced 600 barrels a day. The brewery could bottle 8, 11, 12, and 32 ounce bottles on this line and could also fill cans–both flattop and cone-top. A new warehouse was added to the back of the bottle shop (95’x 210’ – according to John Burton) and stood three stories high. Beer was handled on a pallet system, utilizing a forklift much the same as when my generation worked in the brewery in the 1960’s. A railroad spur ran in front of the brewery that provided easy access for raw materials and distribution. The brewery made every effort to maximize the plant and meet production needs and remain competitive. It was to continue to be a struggle for a number of years.

Some time during 1947 and 1948, the infamous Tap Room was completed. It was furnished with a world-class German beer stein collection and captain’s chairs with an “ always full refrigerator” – full of GB of course. Part of one of my summer jobs was to fill that the refrigerator at the end of each day so that the many service group or coaches’ groups, etc. would have an ample supply for their “get-togethers.” The Tap Room still holds many memories for our family and for a few generations of Santa Rosans. It was there that the North Bay Coaches held one of their yearly meetings. Lions’ Club and many other clubs gathered there, and the room was always open for friends to stop by and help themselves to a beer. Countless people have stopped Jim, John and me over the years and told us that they remember the hospitality extended to them at the Tap Room. Others would inquire the whereabouts of the beloved stein collection. “Which one of you boys got that?” they would ask. The answer is a sad narrative to be explained later. If anything epitomizes the generous nature of Tom Grace, it is the Tap Room and the warmth and hospitality he extended on a regular basis to the people of his hometown. On more than one occasion, I recall seeing some of our civic leaders having a few brews in the Tap Room.

As hospitable as the Tap Room was to Santa Rosans, the beer industry was not to regional brewers–not that the industry was ever kind. Pabst, Miller, Budweiser, Schlitz and the other major breweries feasted on the small regional breweries as they greedily gobbled up market share and eliminated some competition. Advertising dollars were increased nationally as the major brewers battled and pushed their brands. Beer consumption dropped in the 1950’s from 18.5 gallons/capita in 1950 to 16.9 gallons/capita in 1951. For the remainder of the decade, consumption stayed flat (one last pun). In comparison, from 1950-1960 American industrial output as a whole increased 54% and per capita income increased 35%. As the market got more competitive, regional brewers decreased in number and only the corporate giants seemed to thrive –or maybe just survive. The number of Americans between 20-40 years old (prime beer drinking age) also declined, and fewer of them consumed beer. Liquor was in short supply during the war but not in the 1950’s. The liquor industry amped up its marketing efforts and created a mass marketing campaign to attempt to dominate the alcohol industry. As a result, brewers were forced to fight “cocktails” for the drinker’s palate. Additionally, the combination of a diet craze that swept the nation at that time and the trend toward lighter lagers (considered sweet and bland by many), the beer market suffered considerably. Actually, the beer market was bifurcated with the national beer machines growing and the rest fighting to exist.

However, tastes did change, and the breweries had to adapt in order to survive. The light beer revolution was just around the corner and “light, pale and dry” seemed to describe most major brands. Not until not until the baby boomers fed the micro-brewing revolution in the mid-1980’s did beer-brewing America return to its roots of full-bodied ales and lagers. In fact, the president of the Master Brewers Association of America urged his membership to brew “modernized.streamlined beers with a pale color and a mild hop flavor…” The brewing industry understood this change and urged brewing for public taste and not their own. Ironically, a few years later (1967), Meister Brau of Chicago produced the first “lite beer.” So the beer market became rife with troubles and extremely competitive as breweries tried to hang on.

In 1953 Grace Brothers Brewery had to close its doors. There was a rumor of a sale to Hamm’s Brewery, but that rumored sale fell through. The early 1950’s were rugged times financially because of high labor costs and the fierce competition for beer sales. The Grace family continued to farm the various ranches and it subdivided the area currently called the Grace Tract. And it would be five long years before the doors to the brew house would again open.

As a means of measuring the change in the beer market, it’s necessary to understand that 211 beer makers operated 252 plants in 1958 and the four largest brewers owned 18% of the market. By 1967, 124 breweries operated 183 plants, and the top four accounted for 33% of sales (Bud, Schlitz, Pabst and Falstaff-Miller was #8). Out of that group, just Bud and Miller are left. Phillip Morris bought Miller in 1969, and the race was on–at least for the major breweries. Actually, Pabst was resurrected and is still brewed today. It enjoys a loyal following-particularly on college campuses. They brew approximately 25 beers including Pabst, Primo Schiltz, Old Milwaukee, Ranier and other regional brands purchased by Pabst. But, alas, Pabst too has been sold just closing the last week in June. The new owner, C. Dean Metropoulos , bought the brewery for a business for his sons to run. Let’s hope they continue to satisfy their loyal, cost-conscious following.

As for the land of Happy Hops, Grace Brothers reopened on April 1, 1958 and negotiated a contract to produce Bull Dog malt beverages for Bohemian Distribution Co. of LA. This contract and our “designer” labels allowed Grace Brothers to survive another seven years, until1965. The brewery produced 332,500 cases a year of Bull Dog. When the brewery started producing beer (mid March 1958), it hired 40 employees – many of them former employees. Tom was president and Jack was VP and secretary. I remember this time period clearly: rides on Saturdays and Sundays to the brewery while Dad checked out the plant and allowed my brothers and me to run around, drive forklifts and generally amuse ourselves.

(Burton photos Santa rosa plant 1958,, evening scene, , Bottling line, bottling machine 19580, wagon in front and tom standing)

But as good as the resumption of brewery operations sounded for Grace Brothers, the marketplace did not. It had gotten more vicious. Bohemian Distribution Company bought Grace Brothers’ Brewery LTD of LA out of bankruptcy in 1956 and renamed it Southern Brewing Company. So the Grace Bros Los Angeles brewery was in outside hands and pressure increased for the “affordable beer” market-notice I did not say cheap. The Bull Dog contract was estimated to gross about $4 million for a five-year period. Bull Dog was available in four sizes: 8 oz., 12 oz., 16 oz., and 32 oz. It competed with Country Club Malt Liquor for the slightly maltier beverage market, a euphemism for higher-octane beer.

Production at the brewery in 1958 was 100,000 barrels, and twenty-five percent of that was Bull Dog. Payroll was $25,000 a month for the 50 or so employees. At the time, Grace Brothers had one bottling and one canning line. Oscar Blum was brew master (he was the son of Jacob Blum, a former brew master at the brewery).

Two years before the reopening, Bill Grace died on November 3, 1956 after a long battle with cancer. He had been sick for a couple of years with cancer. Family lore has it that Moses bought Bill his first house on either Alderbrook Drive or Talbot Avenue. Bill died before seeing the brewery reopen in 1958. I’m sure he would have pleased to see the family business flourish again. After high school, Bill had worked at the brewery and had served as an officer. He moved to Colusa after the closing of the brewery to manage the ranch there. He had earlier married Juliet Proctor and has three children Julianne (deceased 1971), Pam Grace Stone and Bill Grace. Juliet’s family was very involved in the hop business, so their marriage seemed like a perfect fit–brewery and hops. But they later divorced, and Bill then married Maryann Peterson. Bill died at age 45. With his death two of the five brothers were left. Jack was 48 and Tom 53 at the time, and both had young families and a lot of real estate and an outstanding regional brewery that was fighting tooth-and nail to keep its head above water and compete for the beer dollar.

Just after the brewery reopened, Jack Grace died unexpectedly on December 29th 1958 of a heart attack. He was attending a party at the house of Ed Healy, a close friend. Jack had married Emma Shea Hughes on July 17th 1937 and had four wonderful children: Patricia, James, John and yours truly. Jack worked at the brewery and at the Healdsburg ranch. He had just turned 50 when he died. Pat Grace Fitzpatrick remembers mourners at his funeral were so many that they filled the chapel of St. Eugene’s and stood on the entrance steps. She said recently that she didn’t realize how many friends dad had. While this history isn’t the place for personal memories of my father, I will say that he did love his kids and that he was a softie. I know that I developed the habit of reading the sports pages each morning because of Dad. He always read the Sporting Green, and we would talk about what was going on in the sports world. His Buick convertible was the favorite car of many of our friends because dad would pile us into the car with the top down and take off for the brewery or other places, and we would squeal with delight as we rode the streets of Santa Rosa. I recall looking through his papers that mom kept and noticing many personal notes from people he had loaned money to that remained uncollected of course. Like his brothers, Dad had a soft spot for someone in need.

I have not found concrete reasons why Tom and Jack decided to reopen the brewery since, if anything, competition when they did was more severe than earlier. I remember talking to Virginia Grace about the brewery at the time I had hoped to start Grace Brothers again. She remarked that the business was always difficult, and she couldn’t understand why anyone would want to get into it. Her remark echoes the thoughts of Fritz Maytag of Anchor Steam Brewery in San Francisco. When I met him at the brewery during a seminar there in 1985, he said, “Why in the heck do you want into this crazy business?” or something similar. Despite his misgivings, he was a wonderful source of information and a true gentleman. At that meeting, he told me how Grace Brothers and Anchor Steam were once connected. When Maytag bought Anchor in 1965, I believe, he asked Tom for some help and came to Santa Rosa for some yeast starter to begin the brewery. Tom gave him the yeast in a bucket, and he drove back to San Francisco in his convertible with the top down. During the drive he looked back and realized that the yeast was actively working and foaming over the top of the bucket and billowing down the freeway. A great guy and a great story. So I guess we really are part of Anchor Steam.

Dad’s death left but one Grace brother to shoulder the load of running the brewery, the ranches and of finding a way to support the widows and nieces and nephews. Considering the situation in the beer industry with the tremendous competition and high wages, it was an ominous task. And just one year earlier, Tom and Dad had reopened Grace Bros. Brewery. But Tom steamed ahead and went about upgrading the brewery and expanding markets and managing the various agricultural interests.

( Tom’s pictures scanned 1962 and 1964,Burton Photos at Flamingo Hotel0 )

By 1959 Tom employed two shifts to double production, and the payroll went to $40,000 a month. Fifty percent of the production was in private labels (Acme, Bull Dog, Brown Derby, etc. (See the appendix for the various labels and John Burton’s research on the numerous Grace Bros. labels). The brewery was capable of bottling 260 units a minute, and it paid close to $1,000,000 in taxes a year. In 1960, production was increased to 500 cans a minute with a new high-speed filler. In 1964, the annual payroll was $602,000 and federal taxes were $1,380,870. Total sales were $5,158,167 for 154,000 barrels of beer.

( burton labels Brown Derby, Bull Dog, Velvet Glow etc)

However, the Santa Rosa institution of Grace Bros. Brewery could not resist market pressures and was forced to close. The combination of those pressures, the high cost of production, and the demands of family finally caused Tom Grace to sign an option in 1965 with Joseph Kalmanovitz of the Maier Brewing Company of Los Angeles to purchase the brewery. Tom was to have his job of president as long as he wanted. But it wouldn’t be for long. Tom Grace passed away September 22, 1966, and one month later Kalmanovitz closed the Santa Rosa brewery. He opened it one year later under Maier Brewing Company and then closed it for good in 1969. The equipment went to Maier in LA, and the building was declared unsafe and torn down in 1969/1970.

Tom had recently taken up golf and after playing a few holes of golf at Santa Rosa Golf and Country Club he suffered a fatal heart attack. Ernie Nevers, an early pro football star who played with Tom on the SRHS 1921 northern section California state championship football team and who later starred at Stanford said of Tom’s passing, “He was a wonderful gentleman…Tom always gave 100%…he never said much but you could always depend on the guy.” Orb Fortier, the legendary SRHS coach said, “ He was a terrific athlete…He always wanted the other guy to get the credit. I don’t think Tom Grace had an enemy in the world. He had a heart of gold and not a mean bone in his body.”
As far as the brewery Kalmanovitz exercised his option that Tom negotiated and in October 1966 there was a new owner of Grace Bros. Brewery, a Santa Rosa institution from 1897 until 1966. The cans had Grace Brother’s Brewing Company and Maier Brewing Company on the sides. Maier was responsible for bringing out the one-gallon cans (see enclosed picture of John, Kathy and me on the front porch at Chico 1969). Kalmonovitz finished his last brew in 1969 and set about demolishing the brewery. I remember going onto the property to take pictures of the brewery and being chased off by a guard with a dog and a shotgun. Not a warm fuzzy farewell. This was also the time when collectors raided the office and the brewery and took much of what was of value. It struck me as slightly ironic that a few years later these same folks would phone up and offer to sell me some of their “GB stuff”. Probably should have bought some but that darn old family pride got in the way and I said “ The hell with them”.
One of the biggest regrets the four of us (Jim, Bill, John and myself) have is that Kalmanovitz gave the Tap Room steins, tables and chairs and anything else that was in there to a Safeway salesman. I think that just added insult to injury. Bill did get out with one of the tables-a wooden keg with a red formica top. Apparently the Safeway salesman threatened Bill to no avail. Looking back I know that if it was in the contract that’s the way it goes. The trade fixtures go with the sale of a company unless indicated but at twenty it didn’t go down so well. In retrospect, it is easy to the reasoning for the sale given the market condition and the financial needs of the various members of the family. Plus, the strength of the unions and the fact that our beer was a Bavarian lager with a pronounced hop aroma- it definitely was not Coors or Olympia. Again, a few years later and we would have been in the middle of the micro brewing revolution. I guess I am proud that we didn’t resort to brewing bland, market-friendly beer. And I like Tom’s response when I asked him what he thought of the new “ fliptop” beer cans (pop-top) when they first came out. He said that if a guy couldn’t open a beer with a can opener he shouldn’t be drinking it. Prosit!