Iconic 1880s-era Ph. Schneider brewery to be restored in Trinidad

The 22nd day of March, in 1933, called for a toast. It was when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the measure that would allow for low-strength beer to be brewed in the United States and foreshadowed the day eight months later when Prohibition would be repealed entirely.

But there weren’t many brewers around to celebrate. Most had gone out of business between 1920 and 1933, and the ones that remained had survived by making non-alcoholic beer or malted milk, or by bottling soda water. In Colorado, where a thriving industry had brewed beers sold all across the Western U.S., only four remained: Coors Brewing in Golden, Tivoli Brewing in Denver, Walter’s Brewing in Pueblo and Ph. Schneider Brewing in Trinidad.

Many of the cavernous, even castle-like, buildings where they had operated were gone as well, torn down to make way for new development or burned to the ground in accidents. In the next few decades, most of the remaining brewery buildings in Colorado would also disappear.

Of the survivors, the grand, 1870 Tivoli building in Denver was salvaged from destruction in 1973 when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It now serves as the student union for the Auraria Higher Education Center and is home to a renewed version of Tivoli Brewing. The original brewery closed in 1969, but was reborn in 2015 when a former Coors executive who had purchased many old Colorado brewery trademarks began brewing on-site again.

In Trinidad, the Ph. Schneider building complex remained standing as well, although it fell into disrepair beginning in the late 1950s, and has been mostly vacant since then.

Late last year, the new buyer of the complex, a development company owned by Jay Cimino, a Trinidad native and the CEO of the Phil Long car dealership group, announced news that was both good and bad: Developers would have to demolish parts of the complex that have been deemed architecturally unsound. But they planned to salvage and renovate the majority of the main structure, a brick icon in Trinidad that dates back to the 1880s.

Construction began in February, and when the project is complete, in late 2024 or early 2025, it could be home to offices or condos, stores and restaurants – and possibly even a small craft brewery, something the town doesn’t have at the moment, a city spokeswoman said.

“It’s a good time for our little town,” said Karl Gabrielson, managing partner with Trinidad Construction Group, which is overseeing the renovation. “Plans to develop and restore the brewery have been bandied about for a while. It’s gorgeous… But it is awfully large and some parts of it are in tough shape. Mostly the old stone portions from the early 1860s.”

A southern Colorado beer legacy

The complex, at 236 North Convent St. runs along an entire city block in the town’s Corazon de Trinidad National Historic District. Parts of it date to 1882, while the five-story brick structure is from 1906, according to “Ghost Breweries of Colorado,” a book by Robert W. McLeod. It was built for Henry Schneider, a German immigrant who founded the brewery in 1873. He named the company for his son, Philip, who would later become an executive with the brewery.

By 1908, Ph. Schneider could produce 200 barrels of beer per day, and its flagship was called Century Beer. After surviving Prohibition by bottling non-alcoholic beverages, Ph. Schneider continued on until 1941 when it closed and then sold three years later to Walter’s Brewing in Pueblo — one of the only other Colorado breweries to make it through the dry years.

It then changed hands several times, owned at various points by the Colorado Brewing Co. of Littleton, Rocky Mountain Brewing Co. and Bohemian Brewery Corp., before finally closing for good in 1957. Since then, parts of it have been used as office space and storage.

But the main brewery building is a little worse for wear. In November, Gabrielson took some of the descendants of the Schneider family on a tour of the long-vacant main building.

“It was phenomenal. It had really good vibes in there,” said Wendy Dunst, of Lakewood. Dunst’s grandmother Gertrude was one of Philip Schneider’s seven children, and she often told stories about the brewery, as did Dunst’s mother and aunt, who grew up in the Schneider family home in Trinidad. “My mom would go to the brewery every day after school,” she said. “Everybody worked there. My aunt liked to say she was testing beer when she was 18 months old.”

Dunst’s cousin Justin Corbitt also grew up hearing stories about the brewery and the family — so much so that his hobby is collecting old brewery paraphernalia, known as breweriana, like bottles, signs, openers, serving trays and more.

Although Gabrielson points out that the brewery has been stripped of its original equipment and most of the beer paraphernalia that had been there, there are still plenty of signs of the industry that used to take place in the five-story building, including massive holes in the floors where the 300-barrel brew kettles used to sit, signage indicating where the grain storage was, pulleys for lifting ingredients to the top of the building, and enormous water pipes. There is also one small kettle remaining that Gabrielson said he plans to restore and install as decoration.

“The original sign was still on the building, so we are likely going to reinstall it inside the building, like over the bar. We found a few old bottles as well,” Gabrielson said.

What’s brewing in the future

Sitting at about 6,000 feet, near the northern edge of Raton Pass, which crosses over the Sangre de Cristo mountain range into New Mexico by the way of the Santa Fe Trail a century ago and via I-25 today, Trinidad was founded as a coal mining and railroad town, as well as a trading post. Much later, it became a destination for artists, cyclists and cannabis entrepreneurs.

Its population, between 8,000 and 9,000 people, hasn’t changed much in the past quarter century, according to census numbers, and its economy has, at times, struggled. But in the past five years, the town has seen an influx of new residents and tourists from the Denver area or other states who have some money to spend on events, art, live music, and recreation, said Anissa Roth, the communications coordinator for the town’s Office of Economic Development.

There have also been more investments, including those from Phil Long’s Cimino, whose development group is in the midst of renovating several historic buildings in addition to the Schneider brewery; and well-known Denver preservationist and businesswoman Dana Crawford, who is helping to restore and reopen the historic Fox West Theatre in Trinidad.

Then there’s Kayvan Khalatbari, the cannabis shop owner who started Sexy Pizza in Denver and has dabbled in politics. Khalatbari has purchased 10 properties in Trinidad, including a former train depot that is now a taproom combing Sexy Pizza with Grandma’s House, a Denver brewery.

But that taproom isn’t a brewery where beer is made. So, with the restoration of the historic Ph. Schneider facility, town leaders want to bring back the aroma of boiling hops and barley, hopefully in the same building where beer was produced in Trinidad for many decades.

“There’s a high demand for more microbreweries and, unfortunately, Trinidad is currently a ‘microbrewery desert,” Roth said. “Raton, New Mexico, has two microbreweries and Walsenburg has one, with nothing in-between along I-25.” So, it will be “an important catalyst” for the historic downtown district, which still features Victorian architecture and brick streets.

Because, as a 1940s-era ad in Albuquerque Journal asked, “What is more inviting…tasty and cooling than an ice cold bottle or mug of rich, fine flavored” beer.

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