The complex consists of five distinct buildings that are connected by one common architectural style - the brick industrial construction and Romanesque style commonly found in Portland buildings after the city's successful Lewis and Clark Exposition.
Henry Weinhard emigrated to the U.S. as a 27-year-old from Lindenbronn, Werternberg, Germany in the 1850s and eventually amassed a fortune with the formation of his Pacific Northwest brewing business. Before arriving in the region, Weinhard worked as a brewing apprentice in his German homeland and worked at a brewery in Cincinnati, Ohio and then moved to San Fransisco in 1856. He later moved to Vancouver, Washington where he took a job a Meunch Brewery. He used his life savings to purchase that brewery. Also while in Vancouver, Weinhard met his wife, Louisa Waggonblast, who was also from Werternberg, Germany. The two wed on January 27, 1859, and went on to have five children. Similar to other couples at the time, only two of the children survived to adulthood.
In 1862, the U.S. Civil War affected business for Weinhard's Vancouver brewery as the soldiers that had previously been stationed at Fort Vancouver left to fight the war. Weinhard sold his Vancouver brewery to Anton Young, also a German native, and moved to Portland, Oregon in search of thirsty customers. Weinhard and other entrepreneurs recognized that Portland was growing rapidly. Weinhard first purchased the Saxer's Liberty Brewery and then, one year later, the Bottler Brewery, eventually renaming the operations, City Brewery. Along with his partner William Dellinger, the company advertised not only its lager beer but also malt, hops, Irish moss, barley, shovels, barrel brushes, brass and wood facets. Rapid success resulted in quick expansion, which continued through the 1890s -- Weinhard shipped beer to Eastern Oregon, Washington, and Montana, and all along the West Coast. The brewery quickly became one of the leading businesses in the Portland area.
Weinhard's success and concurrent financial gain offered him the opportunity to explore other business ventures, such as building the Grand Central Hotel Weinhard and Arion Hall in 1889 (demolished in 1930) which was Portland's only concert hall for many years. Typical of the 1890s, brewery owners, restaurant ownership, and saloon operations went hand-in-hand, and didn't always involve noble business tactics, Always the shrewd businessman, Weinhard offered loans to those starting new restaurants, and those establishments would then send Weinhard's brew. In other words, the loans served as investments.
Moreover, In 1903, Weinhard also financed the construction of a business block in downtown Portland called the Weinhard Block and managing numerous saloons, rumored to offers many vices. Not atypical of the day, saloons often offered various services, as a means of drawing clientele and allowing for increased beer sales. In fact, many private saloon owners felt pressure from brewing entrepreneurs to sell substantial amounts of beer. Thus gambling and prostitution proved to be a smart (if not necessary) ploy to gain clientele. Indeed, the city's vice committee included him on an unpublished list of offenders. The Oregonian never published the list because with fifty prominent Portland businessman's name included, the editor felt it would not be good for the city's success. Newspapers of this era often served as public relation firms for the cities they served, including protecting businesses.
Henry Weinhard died on September 20, 1904, at the age of 74 of a heart attack.Weinhard passed the family business to Paul Wessinger, his son-in-law, who continued to operate the business for the next 20 years.
The City Brewery's initial growth and expansion through the 1890s coincided with Portland's growth, which saw an even bigger boom in the first two decades of the 20th century. Portland's population more than doubled from 8,300 in 1870 to 17,600 in 1880. As the 2nd Industrial Revolution emerged, so did improved forms of communication and transportation (and shipping), allowing for an expanded marketplace and greater ease for which to market one's product. The City Brewery resembles that aspect of American, and Portlandian, life, as it does the brewing prowess of Weinhard. The building that stands reminds us of that era where immigration, migration, industrialization, commercialization, consumption and transportation transformed the country into a lifestyle that dominated much of the 20th Century.