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Downtown's New Brew

By Jenni Simcoe
Published: Wednesday, December 01, 2010, at 10:30PM
Angel City Brewing Eric Richardson

Michael Bowe stands next to brewing equipment that will soon be installed inside the 1913 Roebling & Son's warehouse now home to Angel City Brewing.

Michael Bowe stands outside the front door of the historic Roebling & Sons building at Alameda and Traction and points at the Angel City Brewing logo on his shirt. Then he lifts his arm and points straight toward City Hall. The logo and his view are virtually identical. “It’s prophetic that I ended up here,” he says.

Bowe recently started renovating the 1913 building to turn it into a new home for his beloved microbrewery, which was previously based in Torrance. Slated to open in February, the facility will include a tasting room that will be open to the public, a gift shop and event space. “I want people to get the whole experience of a microbrewery that isn’t behind glass,” he says.

The brewery may eventually house a restaurant, but that’s in the future. “It’s not going to be all dolled up when it opens. It’s a work in progress.”

Long before he purchased the company, Bowe worked in the film business as a gaffer, then as a general contractor. One of his hobbies was brewing his own beer at home, winning awards along the way including ‘California Home Brewer of the Year’ for two years in a row.

In 2004, after seven years of brewing under the Angel City label, Bowe had the chance to buy the Southern California Brewing Company, located in Alpine Village in Torrance. He had been doing business with the brewery, and found out from the owner that he has put it up for sale to the highest bidder on Ebay.

“The first bid was $25,000,” says Bowe. “The auction was going to end at 5:30pm and I knew that on Ebay everything happens in the last 30 seconds.” The only bidder was another microbrewery owner who stopped bidding at noon when he hit the reserve, $150,000. Thirty seconds before 5:30, Bowe put in the winning bid: $150,100.

“It was a beautiful brewery, designed to make lager beer,” says Bowe. He started Angel City Brewing Company under the parent company, Southern California Brewing Company, and has been producing beer at the Torrance location since 1994, along the way picking up awards including gold medals at the Los Angeles International Beer Competition for the Che Pale Lager, Angel City Ale, Angel City Vitzen, and the Rashaan Roland Kirk Stritch Stout. As an accomplished saxophone player, Bowe is a jazz lover, naming many of his beers after jazz legends including the Lester Young Porkpie Hat Dark Lager and the Charlie Parker Pale Ale.

In May of this year, Bowe decided to close the doors of the brewery in Torrance to make a huge move to the Roebling & Sons building, which sits on the edge of Little Tokyo and the Arts District. He shut down production to get to work on needed renovations in the new space, hoping to reopen the lines in September.

That date came and went several months ago.

“It’s all been challenging. Everything takes longer than you want,” he says. The first roadblock was that he didn’t get to take possession of the building as soon as planned. Then he hit a few snags in bringing the building up to manufacturing standards.

“I need 480/277 three-phase,” says Bowe of the electrical needs for his equipment. The building was only equipped with single phase. “[L.A. Department of Water & Power] told me it would take 120 days and $40,000,” he says. He was encouraged by the DWP representative to write a letter to the head of the DWP and explain his needs. “I told them my vision and what I needed. I said, ‘I have this brewery and I need your help.’”

They sent another electrical worker out to place the needed electrical pole. “When the guy came over he said, ‘Of course we can do this. No one told me it was for a brewery!’”

The cost of connecting the building’s new sewer line was a surprise. “One bid was for $19,000 and one was for $30,000,” says Bowe. To save money elsewhere, he’s decided to dig the trench to the street on his own with a backhoe, though he’ll still have to pay a bonded professional to connect the sewer to the city’s sewer system.

There have been some unanticipated extra costs, but also some breaks. The building’s location in a State Enterprise Zone means Bowe can receive a 35 percent discount on his utilities for up to five years, along with tax credits for hiring employees and other discounts.

“Dennis Metz from the mayor’s business team has been very helpful,” Bowe adds. He’s since applied for a small business loan from the city to help with funding. “In hindsight, I would plan a year in advance to make such a tremendous move,” says Bowe.

When production closed in May, Angel City Brewing’s capacity was 2,000 barrels a year. Within the first year at the new location, Bowe hopes to double that. Long-term, he believes the new building is large enough to support production of up to 100,000 barrels per year, a number that he would like to reach in the next ten years.

“Running out of draft beer for my long-time customers has been hard,” he says. Not only does Angel City Brewing provide beer to Downtown restaurants like The Gorbals and Spring Street Smokehouse, but also to stores like Whole Foods.

Bowe is excited about starting production back up in his new space. “I’ve always envisioned being Downtown! We may not have a pro football team but at least we have a local microbrewery,” he says.

His first beer that he’ll produce will be in honor of Whitey Carlson, the recently deceased owner of the Brewery Arts Complex, who had early on invested in Angel City Brewing. “The beer will be a Belgian witbier (white beer) and will be called the Angel City Whitey,” says Bowe.

A Warehouse with History

The three-story warehouse that is now home to Angel City Brewing was originally built for John A. Roebling’s Sons Co., a firm that at one point supplied steel wire for everything from bridges to the original Slinky.

German-born engineer John A. Roebling built a career on the design and construction of suspension bridges. His most famous structure, the Brooklyn Bridge, would be his death. In 1869, several of Roebling’s toes were crushed in an accident during surveying, and he died of tetanus just a few weeks later. The bridge would not open until 1883.

Roebling’s sons continued in the family business, building a giant factory in Trenton, NJ, and opening warehouses and sales offices for their steel wire across the country. In Los Angeles, the firm received a contract from Edison in 1906 for 288 miles of transmission wire that would be used to supply electricity from the Kern River to the city. The new 20,000 kilowatts of power more than doubled the company’s electric output in Los Angeles.

In 1913, John A. Roebling’s Sons contracted architecture firm Hudson & Munsell to design its new Los Angeles facility. The 69,000-square-foot warehouse cost approximately $120,000 to build. Its entryway at Alameda and Traction still features tiles depicting the company’s work and a curved stairway railing made of its braided steel wire. In what will be the brewery room stands a massive spiral slide once used to move the wire spools between floors.


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