Historic Bozeman brewery wall torn down


BOZEMAN, Mont. - Demolition crews worked Wednesday to tear down the last remaining wall of a historic Bozeman brewery. NBC Montana was there Wednesday afternoon when heavy machinery pulled down the first section of the 119-year-old wall.

The demolition marks the end of a back-and-forth that stretches back to 2007 when the other walls of the brewery were torn down.

After months of planning, days of rescheduling and hours of preparation, it took crews just seconds to tear down a portion of the old brewery wall.

Craig Gambrel, with H&H Earthworks, is overseeing the demolition crews.

Gambrel told us,"There's a lot of prep work into it and it does take time, but the main part is it happens to be done right."

Crews spent over four hours Wednesday morning carefully removing each brace holding the wall. Braces have to be pulled off to reduce the risk of pulling the entire wall down all at once.

Gambrel explained, "Therefore, for the last few seconds when that last brace come off, that wall was standing by itself, just standing there."

The city has been debating what to do with the wall for several years. After stopping an effort to tear it down 2011, the property owners stabilized it, but never did anything more with the wall.

Earlier this year an engineering firm deemed the wall unsafe and too far gone to repair.

"Even if they were to try and build a new building with it, they'd have had to tear it all down and start over again." Gambrel said.

Gambrel says working to remove a historic part of Bozeman was a tough but necessary decision for the community. "It's hard to see it go, but then again, it comes down to risk versus reward. And is it safe for the community, or is it dangerous for the community?"

The brewery wall was part of what's known as the Bozeman Brewery Historic District.

According to the Department of the Interior's National Register of Historic Places, the 6-acre district includes five historic buildings linked to Lehrkind family. The Julius Lehrkind Mansion at 719 North Wallace, two other Lehrkind homes, a bottling plant, and the brewery make up the district.

Founder Julius Lehrkind immigrated to America in the 1860s, moving to Bozeman and opening the brewery in 1895, then building the Queen Anne-style mansion across the street.

Prohibition forced the brewery to close and became a coal and ice plant during that period. It reopened briefly as a brewery after prohibition was repealed.

We went to the Pioneer Museum to learn more about the brewery's history and the family that is still a prominent part of Bozeman today.

Assistant Research Coordinator Charlie Spray told us, "That building was, at one point, the biggest building in Bozeman until the field house was built. And all the Lehrkind family houses are around that location, and the company still exists as a Coca-Cola bottling distributorship."

While one part of Bozeman's history is now gone, another Lehrkind family building is thriving as a local bed and breakfast. The mansion was built by the Lehrkinds in 1897. They lived there until it was sold 1966. The house has had a number of owners over the years, even being used as art and music studios.

John Gerter and Christopher Nixon purchased the house in 1996 and opened it as a bed and breakfast.

Gerter tells us it's hard to see the wall come down. "The mansion and the brewery were kind of sisters. The brewery came in 1895, the mansion in 1897. And they've been looking at each other for 115-plus years. So it's a sad day for this house."

The final portion of the brewery wall is set to be torn down Thursday.