[Magnolia Beer sign – Center for American History]
While some of the historical facts appear to be in dispute, the story goes something like this…
The Magnolia Ballroom building on the Franklin Street side of Market Square (715 Franklin) was built in 1912, on the foundation of an older building (the Franklin Building), and once housed the taproom and executive offices for the Houston Ice and Brewing Co.’s Magnolia Brewery. The building was the first in Houston to have refrigerator-style air conditioning. In 2006, it became the first commercial building in Houston to receive the Houston Protected Landmark designation.
By 1915, the Houston Ice and Brewing Company encompassed more than 10 buildings on more than 20 acres located on both sides of Buffalo Bayou. In fact, the brewery even spanned the bayou for some period of time – the Louisiana Street bridge now crosses the bayou at the same location. To provide easier access across the bayou, the brewery built a 250-foot wood and concrete bridge stretching from the Franklin Street bridge toward the Milam Street bridge.
The Magnolia Brewery produced a number of signature brands of beer, including (it is reported) Magnolia, Richelieu, Hiawatha, Grand Prize, and Southern Select (the latter being the most famous). In 1913, brewmaster Frantz Brogniez was awarded Grand Prize at the last International Conference of Breweries for his Southern Select beer – beating out 4,096 competing brewers from around the world. In 1919, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the labeling on one of the Houston Ice and Brewing Company’s brands did not infringe upon a Schlitz trademark. (Having noted that the similarities in the two bottles were limited to their content and brown labels, the Court stated: “If there were deception it seems to us that it would arise from beer and brown color and that it could not be said that the configuration appreciably helped.”)
The company’s decline began during Prohibition, when the Houston Ice and Brewing Company was forced to rely solely on its ice sales. Many of the brewery’s structures were then destroyed in the historic 1935 flood, which was later blamed on the Magnolia Brewery bridge. The brewery struggled to survive, but closed in 1950.
The Magnolia Ballroom is just one of two Houston Ice and Brewing Company buildings that remains standing. In 1969, a high-end restaurant called the Bismark was located on the second floor, and the Buffalo Bayou Flea Market operated out of the basement. The basement has since housed a variety of bars and clubs. The upstairs floors are currently used for special events – much of the ornate interior of the building has been preserved, and it is decorated with historic photos.
Allan Turner, “Magnolia Ballroom becomes Houston’s first protected landmark,” Houston Chronicle, Oct. 10, 2006
“Magnolia Brewery Building,” magnoliaballroom.com (citing additional sources)
Jospeh Schlitz Brewing Co. v. Houston Ice & Brewing Co., 250 U.S. 28 (1919)
“Magnolia Ballroom Showcases Brewery Museum,” fohbc.com
Gorski, L.C. and Aulbach, L.F., “Oktoberfest in Houston? Breweries on the Bayou,” Buffalo Bayou – An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings (2003).