Historic Structures

Mission Brewery American Agar Company, San Diego California

Date added: August 5, 2016 Categories: California Industrial Brewery Hospital

The Mission Brewery was built as brewery in 1912-1913 and opened in June 1913. The brewing industry was pioneered in San Diego by Austrian immigrants Mr. Doblar and Mr. Wedel who opened many local beer gardens following the opening of the first brewery in 1868. The San Diego Brewing Company was later founded in 1895 by men of German descent, and Gothic style breweries became popular in San Diego.

The man who purchased the Mission Brewery site, block 182 of the Middletown Addition, in 1912, was August F. Lang, a German. The purchase was made in the name of the newly incorporated Bay City Brewing Company, for which Lang had served as president and secretary-treasurer in 1886. A druggist by trade, Lang had previously owned and operated a drug store in the Granger Building.

When the brewery opened, the San Diego Consolidated Brewing Company, formerly the Bay City Brewing Company, had three executive officers: Lang, as president and treasurer, Frederic Handschy as vice president and general manager, and Jacob Guehring as superintendent and brewmaster.

Knowledge that Prohibition and the end of the legal sale of alcoholic beverages faced them, caused the managers to begin production of a nonalcoholic drink dubbed the "Hopski" in 1915. Due to poor sales, caused in part by anti-German sentiments held during World War I, the "Hopski" was discontinued two years prior to ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Passage of the Volstead Act in Congress, which defined "intoxicating beverages", whose manufacture and sale the Eighteenth Amendment had banned, brought Prohibition into effect from 1920-1933. These years had disastrous consequences for the brewing industry, and San Diego's Mission Brewery, as one of its members, did not survive. The brewery closed in 1918 and was eventually sold, in 1923, to the American Agar Company.

Although the brewery was a short-lived venture, it was the first Mission Revival style brewery to have been built in America, and is now the oldest surviving brewery structure in San Diego.

The American Agar Company which was housed in the Mission Brewery buildings, was the first agar plant in San Diego and one of the first in state. Agar, a product of ocean kelp, is employed in the manufacture of iodine, gels, and bacteriological culture plates. The history of its discovery and production dates back to the fifteenth century.

The earliest record of commercial agar production in the United States was in 1919. Chokichi Matsouka started the first agar plant in the Glendale-Pasadena area at that time. He soon lost his business. The Matsouka Company sold its equipment to John Decker, who began producing agar in the Mission Brewery in 1923- Becker attempted to improve Matsouka's methods, and produced a good quality agar until heat resistant contaminants destroyed his capacity for sterilizing the agar. The factory closed but was reopened in 1932 when Dr. Horace Selby, acting as a consultant, solved the sterilization problem. In 1933, however, competition from imported Japanese agar at one fifth the price of the American product, forced the American Agar company to fold.

Agar production in California was continued on a reduced scale by Mr. Steve Corfield, who opened a family business in National City in 1934. He later became a partner in the new American Agar and Chemical Company, formed at the urging of the War Productions Board in the early 1940s. In the intervening years, the former brewery building was purchased by Lou Small and B.J. Shipman, who operated a Mexican imported sea food business there. Their import business lasted only a short time, for once the United States and Japan were at war, Japanese imports were halted and agar production became a priority of the federal government.

Small became interested in the product, and he and Corfield formed the American Agar and Chemical Company in W1. The company furnished 95 percent of the agar required by the War Productions Board, earning commendations for its contribution to the war effort. For twenty-five years the American Agar and Chemical Company was the sole producer of American made agar, and its product proved superior to imports. The company continued production until the factory closed its doors in 1987.

Over the years, the southwest section of the tower building was subleased to other tenants such as the New Linen Supply Company. It was the success of continued economic return that saved the Mission Brewery buildings from demolition.