Engine 15 Brewing Company: Downtown's Newest Brewery

November 10, 2014 16 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Craft breweries are breathing a breath of fresh air into aging urban districts across America. Is it possible that Engine 15 Brewing Company can stimulate a renaissance along Myrtle Avenue? Today, Metro Jacksonville takes a tour of downtown's newest brewery, the site's history, and future plans.

Many say that to see how a small business can reinvigorate a neighborhood, just follow the barrels. From Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland to the Brooklyn Brewery in New York, the neighborhoods around them have sprouted to life after their opening. A similar trend is occurring along King Street in Jacksonville, where Bold City Brewery and Intuition Ale Works have established their roots. Now Engine 15 Brewing Company's new digs in LaVilla may bring the revitalization magic to Myrtle Avenue, while preserving some of Jacksonville's early 20th century industrial heritage in the process. Taking a walk through Engine 15's new spacious production brewery, one thing is for certain--we don't build them like we used to.

Gustav Muller's Hotel Burbridge was located on the corner of West Forsyth Street and Clay Street. Image courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/31358

The history of the buildings housing Engine 15 date back to 1914, when Gustav Muller opened G. Muller Company along the Enterprise Street (now Beaver Street) streetcar line. The owner of downtown's Hotel Burbridge, Muller's company was a liquor, Chattanooga Beer, and Schlitz Beer distributor. For the ease of shipping products, a four-block long railroad spur was extended from the S-Line, via the center of Wilcox Street, to Muller's business.

With Prohibition on the way, the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company replaced G. Muller & Company at the site in 1919. Founded in Creighton, PA in 1883, Pittsburgh Plate Glass (now PPG) specialized in paint and glass products.

That same year, the Jacksonville Terminal opened a few blocks south. The largest railroad station south of Washington, DC, it helped stimulate the development of several industrial structures along the Myrtle Avenue corridor. Around this time, the warehouse at 633 Myrtle Avenue opened on the west of Pittsburgh Plate Glass' S-Line railroad siding. Prior to this, the Myrtle Avenue site consisted of shotgun houses just north of Haynes and Wilbur Mahoney's Mahoney Lumber Company.

Before becoming Pittsburgh Plate Glass' contract sales department in the 1950's, it was utilized by a number of businesses including Flynn-Harris-Bullard Company (naval stores factors and wholesale grocers), Indiana Flour Company, Gorman Supply Company (plumbing supplies), and the All State Pipe Supply Company.

Old advertisements from companies that once operated at the Engine 15 site.

In 1936, in need of additional space, Pittsburgh Plate Glass acquired Mahoney Lumber's property and commissioned famed Jacksonville architect, Henry J.Klutho, to design a new 36,000 square foot warehouse and office. Klutho's design included centralized areas within the warehouse's footprint for trucks and railcars to enter the building. Pittsburgh Plate Glass operated there Jacksonville plant until 1977.

As Pittsburgh Plate Glass' Jacksonville operation and need for space declined, several warehouses at the complex were re-purposed with new uses. Over the years, 633 Myrtle Avenue has been occupied by several businesses including A.G. Distributing Company, Blevins Popcorn & Concession Supply Company, and cabinet maker Southeast Manufacturing. The oldest structures of the former PPG complex, which Gustav Muller utilized to distribute pre-Prohibition Chattanooga beer, have housed Edwards Ornamental Iron Works for a number of years. Edwards manufactures iron gates, fences, and railings for residential and commercial purposes.

Klutho's building, the largest on the site, was occupied by Pioneer Metals between 1980 and the early 2000s.

Henry J. Klutho's 1936 rendering of his Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company warehouse design.

This site and others nearby are representative of a built environment that was once in abundance in downtown Jacksonville. In a weird twist of fate, the expressway that led to LaVilla's demise has served as a barrier of protection and preservation for this section of the old storied neighborhood. On the west side of Interstate 95, it's a forgotten area that has been spared the city's destructive and failed urban renewal policies.

Because of this, urban pioneers and small business owners, like Luciano Scremin and Sean Bielman of Engine 15 Brewing Company, have the opportunity to do something special in a long neglected district that could use an economic shot in the arm. Something special is exactly what they have in mind. Recently gaining the city's approval to begin brewing out of 633 Myrtle, Engine 15's plans for the site are ambitious. With ample space to grow, the craft brewer's vision for their new space includes the conversion of PPG's old S-Line rail dock area into a unique outdoor bier garden and tap room. Here's a look inside downtown's newest craft brewing facility.

This 1930's Sanborn Fire Insurance Map illustrates the location of Mahoney Lumber Company (left), Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company (bottom right), and the Indiana Flour and Feed Company. Muncie-based Indiana Flour and Feed was founded in 1918 by Charles W. Gammon, Flem VanMeter, William VanMeter, and Herman Burns. The company was involved in wholesale and retail distribution of flour, feed, grains, seeds, and other related commodities. While the company left 633 Myrtle Avenue in 1939, it operated until 1952 when it was dissolved after suffering financial losses.

This Sanborn Fire Insurance Map illustrates site development and occupation of buildings during the late 1940's. Mahoney Lumber was replaced by H.J. Klutho's warehouse (left) in 1936. All State Pipe Supply Company occupies 633 Myrtle Avenue (top right).

This Sanborn Fire Insurance Map illustrates site development and occupation of buildings during the late 1950's. Pittsburgh Plate Glass now occupies all buildings surrounding the Wilcox Street railroad siding in the center of the property.

Next Page: A Tour of Engine 15 Brewing Company's Myrtle Avenue Complex

Inside 633 Myrtle before its conversion into a production brewing facility.

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