The 1890’s Through 1919

Frank P and Joe Grace opened a grocery store on 4th and A Streets in the 1890’s and slowly expanded into wholesale groceries and produce. According to Gaye LeBaron’s history of Santa Rosa (Santa Rosa: A Nineteenth Century Town), they hauled potatoes from Bodega for 45 cents a sack to sell in town. Prior to that enterprise, Frank and JT worked at a variety of jobs, including farming so I guess a grocery store was an extension of their experience. Metzger’s Steam Brewery was owned by the Jacob Haltiner family. Jacob Haltiner had died in 1895 and his son John took over. Frank and Joe Grace must have sensed a future in the beer business so they purchased the 10-employee brewery on February 6, 1897. Frank was Sheriff and Tax Collector of Sonoma County at the time. I don’t think it would play too well in today’s political climate to be the Sheriff and own a brewery at the same time, but it surely wasn’t a problem at that time. My mom, Emma Hughes Grace, always claimed that her grandfather Con Shea loaned the money to the Grace Brothers to buy the brewery for $6,500. That’s an interesting twist of fate since Con Shea’s granddaughter Emma Hughes married Jack Grace some 40 years later. They purchased the original Joseph Metzger’s steam brewery at Second and Wilson-only to see it burn down on May 10,1897. It was apparently insured for $6,000 and the loss was estimated to be between $25,000 and $30,000(John Burton, source). It was quickly rebuilt as a two- story brick building and reopened July 24th 1897.

( Pictures Burton disk GB Photos.doc, brewery 1897 and scans Grace Family 1900-1920 Front of brewery, employees early 1900s, and pic inside main office 1906 Frank Grace Joe Grace)

How this was accomplished in such a short period of time I have no idea, but part of the story, I imagine, is there was no planning department, permits, or red tape. The old, wooden brewery was replaced by a four-story brick building. The well was located between the brewery and the Santa Rosa Creek. Later, this well was utilized by the city of Santa Rosa during the drought of the mid 1970’s. (Rumor has it that the quality of water immediately went up). When the brothers rebuilt the brewery, they updated it and added a new power mash machine and new steel cooler, plus a first class ice machine, new fermentation tanks, and brew tubs.

These improvements allowed them to brew fifty barrels of beer a day, compared to the Metzger brewery which brewed 78 barrels of beer a week just a few years before. They also intended to brew lager beer. To lager means to store: therefore, the beer must age 4-6 weeks before going to market, and this involves time and money, but the lager beer appealed to a wider audience. Steam beer is similar to ale in that it takes 14 days of aging before it is ready to sell. The quality of beer produced at this time across the country varied widely in quality and in taste. The making of lager beer was a big step in increasing the quality and quantity of Grace Bros Beer. The brothers soon added a wood frame building for making barrels and wooden beer boxes. Beer came in full keg and one-half keg and the boxes had the ubiquitous brand of GBB Company on the sides.

A bottling plant was soon added. The dark amber bottles with porcelain tops were also embossed with GBB Co and Grace Brothers’ Brewery. These came in three sizes- quart, pint and half pint. The half pint was usually sold in saloons and used as a “chaser” as in the saying, “Barkeep, whiskey with a beer back”. Beer was delivered to hotels and saloons by horse and wagon. The driver was responsible for his horse and his wagon as well as the sale of his beer to hotels and saloons. On the wagon he had tapping equipment, plus tools to repair the wagon. The brewery also shipped beer by train. Business was good, and the brothers continued to expand their marketplace.

( Burton File GB amber.doc #.01 and Porcelein stopper #.04)

They reinvested part of their profits in Kroncke Park, located next to the old Safeway store on 4th Street where College Avenue meets 4th. They renamed it Grace Brothers Park. There is a story in Gaye LeBaron’s history of Santa Rosa of Deputy Frank Grace chasing some hooligans from San Francisco back onto the train after they terrorized local citizens after spending a Sunday drinking at Kroncke Park. I guess they must have had better crowd control when they bought it with Frank being Sheriff. They operated the park into the early 20th century. There, they held picnics and beer tastings. Many breweries across America developed parks for the same reasons and because it was thought they could convey a more wholesome approach to drinking beer than in the saloons. The workingman was seen as all too often tempted by the lure of the corner tavern and outdoor, family-style entertainment seemed a good investment and widened the market.

The year of 1906 was a calamitous year in Santa Rosa with the earthquake of April 18th. Widespread destruction and fire raged throughout the city with 119 Santa Rosa residents losing their lives. The Courthouse was lost along with the Hall of Records, a couple of hotels, a theater, banks and other buildings. Somehow the brewery survived the quake and the fire Amazingly the brewery had its own fire-fighting equipment, and the fire chief told the public to call Grace Brothers’ brewery phone number (Main 113) in case of emergency if they couldn’t contact the local fire department. Obviously, the brothers had learned their lesson in the 1897 fire that leveled the brewery. Remember, in 1906 Santa Rosa was just a small town of approximately 7,000 people, and city services were not what they are today. Yet, it is interesting to note that the Grace Brothers’ well and the firefighting equipment and men were instrumental in dealing with the tragedies of the quake. This is another example of the Grace Brothers contributions to Santa Rosa that began when Frank P Grace became sheriff in the early 1900s (This tradition of community involvement continued into the 1960’s with Tom Grace’s involvement in many community activities, and the brewery hosting to many Santa Rosa groups and functions). As Santa Rosa pulled itself from the ashes and rubble of the 1906 quake, business went on where and whenever possible. The town rebuilt itself and the brewery expanded.

Shortly after 1906, the brewery began using paper labels, according to John Burton, Grace Bros Brewery authority, and Frank and Joe Grace converted the bottling line to caps instead of a porcelain stopper. Certainly, the bottling line process and the caps sped up bottling and lowered costs. The bottle was filled and then passed onto a pad where a depressed floor pedal sealed the cap. This modernization was typical of the brewery’s operation through the years as it tried to stay ahead of demand, raise efficiency and cut costs. The period from 1906-1918 was a time of brewery growth and land acquisition. The Grace Brothers added to their holdings and continued to supply beer locally and to ship it by rail.

(scanned photos 1900-bar with gb sign, bottle shop 1905)

Another fire occurred in 1911, but the brewery’s fire squad at the quickly put it out, and beer production was not stopped. During this time, the brothers acquired large tracts of land throughout Northern California where they grew hops, barley and rice. Brew masters changed in 1913 when George Gernert died and Jacob Blum took over. Jacob had been with the brewery for about ten years and stayed on with the brewery until 1933. He died just after Prohibition was over and beer production was resumed. Later Oscar, his son, became brew master and was there when Jim, John, Bill and I worked there. The first decade of the twentieth century must have been a grand time to live in Santa Rosa with a population of approximately 7800 people, and to witness Santa Rosa’s emergence from a farm town into a city, and the brewery served as an essential part of that growth. However, there was real trouble brewing in the not too distant future as the Temperance movement gained a strong foothold on the nation’s conscience. All alcoholic beverages were seen in the same light, and no argument about beer as a drink of moderation could hold off the anti-drinking movement.