In June of 1954 the Budweiser, or Anheuser-Busch, brewery opened its doors in Van Nuys, California. A ceremony was held in its hospitality room, the Rathskeller. Important executives of Anheuser-Busch were present, as I discussed yesterday.
The word Rathskeller was brought to America by German immigrants. It recalled the atmospheric cellar bars and restaurants of German towns. With the war over by nine years such prewar terminology was being revived in American brewing and hospitality.
The brewery was built on a large plot in the San Fernando Valley, between 1952 and 1954. A good idea of the “as-built” scale and exterior can be seen in this Flickr image.
The images shown below were taken at the site in 1952 during groundbreaking (source: USCLibraries Digital Collections).
The new plant contributed to a postwar economic and population boom in The Valley. The growth was driven by an expanding freeway system, consumerism, and suburban modes of living.
The brewery was cubic-functional, in plain white, but its windowed towers at one end recalled the iconic Budweiser pile in St. Louis, Missouri.
In contrast to the plain exterior, the Rathskeller and lobby interiors were designed in “Southwest”, a then-emerging style of American architecture and design now well-established.
It’s a soft, natural look, an amalgam of Indigenous, early Spanish, and western American influences. Southwest is well-explained in The Spruce, a home design and decor site. A hallmark is “earthy color palettes and rustic accents”.
In 1954 photographer George Szanik captured warm, evocative images of the lobby and Rathskeller, even as he used black and white. A naturally dry climate can mute colour, or at certain times of the day, so the technique worked perfectly.
Five photos may be viewed in Architectural Digest‘s online archive. To see them, click on nos. 152-155, then on “print”. They fill the screen with detail.
Behind the reception desk appears a mural or large painting. A team of Budweiser Clydesdale horses draws a Western-style wagon laden with boxes and barrels.
In the Rathskeller a painting depicts what seems to be miners with pickaxes. A floor vase holds tall, bullrush-type plants. Metal “cowboy” brands are affixed to a bar covered with white granite or marble.
Atop the bar are draft fonts with bottles of Budweiser strategically placed. We also see porcelain mugs, a Southwest touch perhaps, but evoking the German beer Keller too.
The flooring is polished wood planks, pine or other. There is a low armchair with recessed back in plaid, and bar stools covered apparently in mottled rawhide. The ceiling is exposed beams with white daubing or textured drywall, perhaps inspired by Adobe (Viga) design, but evoking also a European timbered look, Tudor or other.
In 1978 Busch Gardens Van Nuys, the related entertainment facility, was closed so the brewery could expand to make Bud Light. Public tours of the brewery ended for the next 40 years but recommenced in 2018.
A Daily News report in 2018 shows Bud Light being poured in what is clearly the Rathskeller of 1954. Now it is called the Bud Light Tasting Room. The embedded news story contains a video in which resident master brewer Jeff Jenkins describes the tour in a lively fashion.
The clip pans onto the tasting room and we see again the old Rathskeller, looking rather ordinary these days, with little sign of the original Southwest motif.
In 2010 a video was posted to YouTube to commemorate an employee at the brewery who had passed away. Parts of the video briefly show the Rathskeller, e.g. the exposed beams of 1954. A wrought iron lamp also seems from that period, and a painting or two.
When the video was made the room was probably used for employee recreation, or other internal purposes. It shows the lobby area as well. The desk looks similar to the 1954 original but less stylish, perhaps a remodeled version.
The Clydesdales and beer-laden wagon are still there on the wall, this time we can appreciate the colours.
Beer and the brewing industry have changed significantly in the last 67 years. But Anheuser-Busch Van Nuys is still operating, still providing an economic boost to The Valley.
The video on YouTube focuses on the people, friends and colleagues of the departed employee, shown working in production, lab work, or the supply chain. The things in a brewery that happen on the ground are their bailiwick.
At the end we seen the work gloves and safety glasses of the departed man framed.
The upload description states it is a “small” tribute but it is not small, it is big-hearted, and enlarged my understanding of American and Anheuser-Busch brewing history.
Note re image: Source of images are linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.