Ticket to the Twenties Themes: Prohibition and Eastside Near Beer, ca. 1928

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

With the Homestead’s popular festival, Ticket to the Twenties, just eleven days away on October 1 and 2, here’s the first in a series of posts showcasing artifacts from the museum’s collection that tie into themes for the event.

The onset of Prohibition in 1920 had, obviously, a significant effect of America’s wineries, distilleries and breweries, including those in greater Los Angeles.  One of the long-standing brewers was Zobelein’s, maker of the Eastside pilsener, that was located on twenty acres along the Los Angeles River in the old industrial core of the city.

Founder George Zobelein migrated to Los Angeles from Bavaria in the late 1860s, starting a grocery store.  Later, though, he joined the New York Brewery, the town’s first when it opened in 1854.  Naturally, Germans dominated the beer-making business in Los Angeles and Zobelein partnered with Joseph Maier in the early 1880s in taking over the Philadelphia Brewery.

Zobelein and Maier were quite successful, but after Maier’s death and a dispute with his heirs, Zobelein took over the Los Angeles Brewing Company in the early part of the 20th century.  The brewery was located in what was then still known as East Los Angeles, soon renamed Lincoln Heights, so “Eastside” became the brand name for Los Angeles Brewing.

Zobelein appears to have been an enlightened employer, offering generous vacation days, paid lunch breaks, free beer  on regular breaks during the workday and a hefty employee discount of 40-50%.  But, with the onset of Prohibition, the company had to make some major adjustments to its products, as did wineries who either turned to grape juice or sacramental wines to try and survive the “great social experiment.”

This brightly colored beer bottle label from the Homestead’s collection is for a Prohibition-era “near beer” manufactured by the Los Angeles Brewing Company, owned by George Zobelein from 1907, and has a 1928 copyright date on it.  

One was its pilsener “near beer”, which had to contain no more than 1/2 of 1% alcohol to be commercially sold.  The company also reconfigured its “Old Mission Malt” into a tonic, sold malt syrup extracts, and made root beer, among other offerings.  An Eastside recipe book from the museum collection made sure to warn users that certain processes found in the pamphlet could create alcoholic beverages (wink, wink, nod, nod.)

Of course, Prohibition was often honored in the breach and the effort to repeal it finally succeeded in 1933.  Zobelein’s went back, naturally, to manufacturing real beer with famed bombshell actress Jean Harlow, who died tragically a few years later, launching the first shipment by smashing a bottle of beer on a delivery truck.

George Zobelein did not live long after the repeal of Prohibition, dying in 1936, though his family kept the business going.  Through the rationing of World War II, Eastside continued to be successful, but change was coming.  In 1948, Pabst, a major Milwaukee brewer, bought out Zobelein, but the family continued operations for another thirty years until Pabst shut its doors.  Today, the Los Angeles Brewing Company site is the Brewery Art Walk, which opened in 1982, three years after Pabst closed the brewery.  Click here for more on the facility.  For some good information on Zobelein and Eastside, click herehere, and here for excellent articles by Cecilia Rasmussen and Nathan Masters.

The label above was copyrighted by Los Angeles Brewing in 1928 and uses the long-standing mottos, “The Perfect Brew” and “Put Eastside Inside.”  It also lists the pertinent state Prohibition mandated permit number.  Note also that the product was proclaimed to be both “palatable” and “nutritious,” the latter undoubtedly attributed to the “choicest cereals and hops” used in the brewing!  The fierce eagle mascot is also quite a kick, which is something this pale imitation of real beer definitely lacked!

Check back tomorrow for another Ticket to the Twenties themed artifact as we mark time on our march to the festival. And don’t forget to join us on October 1 and 2 from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. for Ticket to the Twenties!

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