It is important to remember that the act of preservation extends beyond the care of dusty, old books and withered pieces of paper. Our records of the past often include structures of the built environment, which in recent decades have come to be regarded as worthy of preservation.
Kansas City Manufacturer, May 1902
Kansas City Illustrated, 1902
An example is the Imperial Brewing Co. building on Southwest Boulevard north of Interstate 35. Many will recall the 2012 fire that seemed to sound a death knell for the structure, but the building’s current owner, the Dean Reality Co., believes it can be resurrected. Officials maintain that only some old wooden roof sections, which needed to be replaced anyway, were destroyed by the flames and that the building’s overall structural integrity remains intact.
Kansas City Star, November 6, 1904
Construction of the facility was completed by the Imperial Brewing Co. in 1902, near the height of Kansas City’s expanding pre-Prohibition brewing industry. Here, Imperial’s signature brews - Mayflower and Imperial Seal - were cranked out until the company’s financial instability led to bankruptcy in 1905. The facility then was purchased by the Kansas City Brewing Co., a firm that had risen from the merger of the Fred Heim and Rochester brewing companies, and the old Imperial plant became known as its B Plant Branch. By the eve of Prohibition, the Kansas City Brewing Co. was outproducing all other Kansas City breweries combined.
But, as we all know, Prohibition became the law of the land, and the brewery property was sold in 1919 to the Seaboard Flour Co. for conversion to a mill. Over time, the onetime Imperial Brewing complex became known locally as the Boulevard Mill, and it functioned in that capacity until finally closing in the mid-1980s.
Due to vandalism and the simple passage of time, the building deteriorated until being purchased in 2007 by Dean Reality. The company had the property added to the National Register of Historic Places and began exploring opportunities for redevelopment. Officials remain open to proposals ranging from the building's conversion to residential units or office space to its restoration as a brewery. What is important, according to the company, is that the site is transformed from an eyesore into an economic development opportunity for the Kansas City area.
Kansas City Manufacturer, February 1902
The future of the Imperial Brewing Co. building is yet to be determined. It is clear, however, that physical structures are an important part of the recorded past and that the preservation and continued use of historic buildings help us, as community members, to better connect with it.
By Michael Wells, Special Collections Librarian
Griffin, Michael Englebert. “Imperial Brewing Company Brewery.” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 2010.
Roberts, Rob. “Historic Imperial Brewery on Road to New Life as Redevelopment Anchor.” Kansas City Business Journal, January 12, 2017.