San Antonio's Past Meets it Future at the Pearl Brewery

Written by Randy Watson

When most people think about San Antonio's history, the obvious things that come to mind are the missions, the Alamo, and the deep cultural ties with the Spanish and Mexico, but the history goes deeper, and is much more varied than those pillars of San Antonio.  The Pearl Brewery, established in 1883, is a San Antonio landmark, full of history, but now is in the process of becoming not only a piece of San Antonio's unique past, but a beacon for the future of Texas, as well.

Many Texans know the Pearl Brewing Company for brewing their famous Pearl beer, their fierce competition over the years with Lone Star Beer, and perhaps their association with Judge Roy Bean.  Over the years, the success of this small brewing company aroused the curiosity of larger breweries, who tried to buy out Pearl.

For years, Pearl shrugged off these attempts, and actually did their own acquiring of breweries, buying up the Goetz Brewing Company in 1961.  But eventually, Pearl was forced to sell.  In 1995, the S&P Company bought out Pearl and eventually went on to close the historic San Antonio brewery in 2001, and moved production of Pearl to Fort Worth, Texas.  The closing marked an end to a colorful local tradition, but now, the building where Pearl made their beer for many years is undergoing a facelift, and is set to make a new sort of Texas history.

The brewery is being turned into the largest solar project in the state of Texas, and is in the process of being redeveloped into live/work lofts, cafe\'s, offices, retail, and restaurant space.  The developers, Silver Ventures, is putting $1.35 million into 758 solar panels, that will supply about a quarter of the energy needs of the structure.  Currently, the largest solar project in Texas is at Fort Sam Houston, but is closed to the public.  The Pearl Brewery will certainly get the public’s attention.  So much so, that the building will feature information stations that will allow the public to view how much energy is being produced by the panels, and view actual usage statistics as they occur.

The project is also mixing some of the older, existing technology available at the brewery with some newer aspects, by collecting rainwater in the old cisterns once used for storing beer.  The rainwater will then be saved and used for irrigating the grounds, and will act as a backup water supply in the case of drought.

At the end of the day, the whole experiment is set to be, well . . . just that: an experiment.  From the funding to the technology, the whole operation is breaking new ground by reusing old, historic grounds in an interesting and responsible ways.  The funding is a public/private joint venture, with about 2/3s coming from Silver Ventures, and the remaining 1/3 from the city\'s utility company, CPS Energy.  If the technology aspect is successful, Silver, along with many green groups, hopes to see solar power become a viable way to power homes and businesses.  The final aspect the group hopes to find success in is the financial one.

With the residential rents starting on the expensive side at $1.40-$1.50/square foot, living in this modern creation will not come cheap.  Office spaces will rent from $2.00/square foot, making this some of the more expensive real estate in San Antonio.

Still, interest seems to be high, and the developers hope that these grounds which once housed one of the most important historical businesses in San Antonio, will once again claim its place as a draw for tourists and citizens of San Antonio, as well.  Who knows, in another hundred years, perhaps people will come to see this as the beginning of a newer San Antonio, rather than the end of an old landmark.