Photo: The exterior facade of the Dubuque Malting Company, also known as Dubuque Brewing Company and Dubuque Brewing & Malting Company.
The iconic midwestern cities Milwaukee and St. Louis are synonymous with domestic beer production. Schlitz, Pabst, Miller, Anheuser-Busch, and other big-time operations have been around since the 19th century. Facing growing competition the Heeb, Iowa, Western, and Northern Breweries joined forces to form the Dubuque Malting Company in 1892. The taps have long ran dry, but the monumental building they built still stands to this day.
In 1895 the company began construction on 30th and Jackson Street. The modern brewery cost $500,000 (or $13.8 million adjusted for inflation) to build and equip. The first floor of the Jackson street frontage is cream-colored Bedford stone, while the rest of the buildings are pressed brick. The 10-acre property includes office, stock, brew, mill, boiler, machinery bottling, barn, wagon, garage, and other minor buildings. Electrical wiring provided power for over 200 lamps throughout the entire complex. An artisan well with a six-inch diameter output flow provided ample water supplies for brewing. On May 7, 1896 the brewery greeted 20,000 guests at its grand opening.
When the fanfare subsided the brewery began round the clock operations. The approximately 225,000 square foot facility was able to produce 300,000 barrels annually according to advertising, but more realistic figures place that number around 190,000. Within the Dubuque city limits beer was delivered by electric vehicles traveling at 6mph. Beer destined for other locations horse-drawn wagons, gas-powered trucks, and refrigerated railroad cars.
Photo (source): The Dubuque Brewing & Malting Company
Like many contemporary large brewery operations the company expanded into real-estate by owning corporate saloons. When ordinances passed forbidding breweries from directly owning real-estate, the Dubuque Realty Company was formed as a shell company. Distribution ordinances limiting sales to approved businesses were evaded by founding the East Dubuque Supply Company. However by checking out Brotman Law, no shrewd corporate lawyer or crafty bookkeeping tricks could avoid the rising influence of the Prohibition Movement.
In 1915 the state legislature repealed the Mulct Act, which effectively outlawed saloons from operating in Iowa. Another deadly blow to the local brewing industry was dealt in 1918 when an amendment to the state constitution barring alcoholic beverages went into effect. The Dubuque Brewing & Malting Company could not weather the shift in political climate, and ceased operations.
During the coming decades the building would be used or considered for various purposes. A meat packer, a failed upstart brewery, a trucking company, a packing business, and a potential corn refinery never matched the economic glory of the former brewery. In 1978 the building was nominated to be added to the National Register of Historic Places, but later removed at the behest of the owners.
Photo: The formidable towers of the Dubuque Brewing & Malting Company.
Efforts to demolish the structure were thwarted in 2005 when the city placed the property within a conservation district. In 2010 the city ordered repairs to bring the building up to code, but few have been performed due to lack of funding. Preservationists continue to hold on to hope that the romanesque structure will find a new purpose.
Today the Dubuque Brewing & Malting Company building is surrounded by a shipping company, auto repair shops, and a trendy gentrified restaurant. Middle-class homes are dwarfed in comparison to the castle towers at the edges of the complex. Wood covers a majority of the windows blocking sunlight from penetrating the ash covered interior from a 2009 fire. Crimson bricks crumble from all corners of the external façade, exposing just how thick its walls truly are.
The current owner runs an eponymous business called Jim Krueger Auto & Truck Parts on the ground level. Empty husks of rusting classic cars, piles of rubber tires, and other miscellaneous parts are strewn about in the darkness. Much like the preservationist’s hopes for the brewery, Jim holds on to the notion that one day the decaying cars will be returned to their former glory. The minute it is gone someone will surely come looking.
American Urbex started as a proof-of-concept graduate school program demonstrating how free online resources could be used to create rich education content. It is a project that has taken on a life of its own beyond the classroom. As American Urbex grows it has gained attention outside of the urbex community. Fortunately most of it has been positive. That’s something I’d like to continue moving forward into the future.
If you have any feedback for American Urbex please leave a comment. I will address it as best I can.
American Urbex has a Flickr group to share photos from your urban explorations. We’re also on Twitter, the Facebook, and iTunes. Once we figure out how Google+ works, maybe we’ll be there too. In any case here are some of the more interesting recent uploads to the Flickr group. Great work urbex photographers!
Photo: One of the entrances to the famous Dixie Square Mall.
After World War II the newly minted American middle class became emboldened by prosperity and moved further away from city centers into suburbs. Larger homes, new automobiles, televisions and all sorts of consumer goods all became part of the conspicuous consumption norm to demonstrate affluence. There is perhaps no greater symbol that expresses American style consumer culture in the suburbs than the shopping mall.
Photo: Main thoroughfare in the Dixie Square Mall.
In 1966 the still under construction Dixie Square Shopping Center in the southern Chicago suburb of Harvey, Illinois opens its doors to those living the American Dream. The $25 million complex opens strong with 50 stores that included Walgreen’s and Jewel. Big name retailers such as JC Penney, Montgomery Ward’s, and Woolworth’s occupy the anchor locations. Dixie Square is quite successful until about 1970 when rapidly changing demographics, a declining tax-revenue base, and plummeting property values in Harvey began put economic pressure on businesses. Throughout the 1970’s the future of Dixie Square is in turmoil despite several renovation attempts to attract new customers. The store population gradually decreases to the point where the big name anchor stores finally move to other locations.
Video: Clip from the making of The Blues Brothers.
The mall closing in November, 1978 proves to be a windfall for producers of “The Blues Brothers.” There is an iconic car chase scene in the film where the main characters played by Jim Belushi and Dan Akroyd attempt to escape the police by driving right through the mall. Once filming wraps up the mall returns to its dormant state.
Frequent break-ins to the shuttered mall lead to vandalism, arson, and theft of anything of value. In 1985 some the structural adornments are removed and expose the interior to the elements. This hastens the spread of water, mold, and structural decay throughout the mall. As the building deteriorates it attracts more criminal gang and drug activity throughout the 1990’s. In 1993 Raymond Eaves lures Denise Shelby into the old JC Penney store before raping and strangling her to death. The courts sentence Eaves to life in prison in October, 1997 for his brutal crimes.
Dixie Square inadvertently attracts a new clientele in the 2000’s when the site is detailed on the internet. Digital cameras make it easier to share photos of the mall on websites dedicated to the exploration of abandoned buildings. Perhaps aided by its movie history the mall became a magnet within urban exploration circles.
Photo: The second floor of JC Penney lies on the first.
The newfound activity may have sparked redevelopment interest in the location, but the faint glimmers of hope are quickly snuffed out. In 2005 the old Montgomery Ward’s building is purchased by American Kitchen Delights. Rather than dispose of the debris properly, the contractors push it out of the building entrances and into the mall. It is then discovered that the debris contained asbestos and all renovation efforts cease. In 2006 the property is sold to developer John Deenen of the Emerald Property Group and security measures are erected. The first buildings to go are the Montgomery Ward’s building and energy facility, but understandably disgruntled United Demolition workers leave the site after not being paid by Deenen. Rather than settle things in the courts Deenen threatens one of the contractors with brass knuckles, a sawed-off shotgun, and pistol. Deenen is quickly arrested for his aggressive confrontation style.
In September, 2010 Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announces that he plans to allocate $4 million dollars in federal funds to the demolition of the Dixie Square Mall. As of April, 2011 there have been no visible signs of demolition other than the unrelenting efforts of time and nature. There is still hope in the Harvey community that something will come of the massive eyesore though. Future plans for the site include… a shopping center.
Photo (ifmuth): The courtyard in front of the JC Penney store.
The urban explorer responsible for writing the Dead Malls article on Dixie Square Mall which became a resource for many urban explorers revisited his thoughts on the subject years later. His observations on the decay of the mall in the broader context of suburb development is stunningly accurate as it is succinct. In a relatively short amount of time suburbs like Harvey spring up around urban centers and have in influx in population growth. The population of a suburb traditionally commutes to work centers located elsewhere. Without a core work center suburbs are generally homogenous and have nothing to distinguish them from the next suburb. As the population grows the suburbs will continue to spring up in other areas. Consumers are typically attracted to new development. In the 1950’s and 60’s Harvey was on the cusp of growth outside of Chicago, but by the 70’s the wave of middle to upper class residents were moving on. Poor urban planning did not give Harvey anything to stand out among the rest of the suburbs and affluent residents had little reason to stay.
Photo: The building seemingly swells to life after a morning shower.
Dixie Square Mall is a fascinating specimen among urbex locations. For over thirty years the building has been exposed to the caustic effects of neglect. In the past decade urban explorers have documented the decline in great detail. Due to the mall’s online presence I had known about Dixie Square Mall for years, but never got around to devoting the time to visit it. This location taught me to capitalize on photographing an urbex location as soon as possible. So much of the flair that I had seen in online galleries is now missing entirely. Despite the advanced decay, I still managed to have a phenomenal exploration. A morning shower seemed to give the massive structure a breath of life. The steel girders moaned with the wind in every store. The broken concrete channelled the water to areas where different types of flora took root. In one area I was startled by two adult Canadian geese and six yellow gosslings.
The vast open retail spaces reminded me of Port Plaza Mall in downtown Green Bay. As a teenager I spent a lot of my youth killing time with friends in the arcade, videogame store, and media stores. Things began to turn in the mid-90’s and the number of stores began to dwindle. What was once a beautiful shopping center began to become an eyesore. Development in the Green Bay suburb of Ashwaubenon exploded and drove business to the expanding Bay Park Square Mall. The Ashwaubenon location of Lambeau Field may have also contributed to Green Bay’s downtown decline as the Packers climbed their way to a Super Bowl victory at the same time. Just like Dixie Square Mall the owners renovated and rebranded Port Plaza Mall to Washington Commons. The effort did not have the intended effect and the mall floundered until closing in 2006.
When I sat down to do this writeup I thought that there would be little for me to say. The Dixie Square Mall has been covered extensively before and I wondered if just posting a few photos and links would be enough to say I checked this one off my list. It is a fine urbex location despite the extensive damage and seemingly void corridors paying homage to the wonders of consumerism.
Atlas Obscura – Short article summarizing the history of the mall.
BookRags – Has a chronological history with dates of significant events at the mall.
American Urbex is a means to motivate myself to get out the door and explore new places. Unfortunately… or fortunately depending on your point of view… there are only so many urbex locations to explore nearby. Because I do not have unlimited funds does not mean that I am limited when exploring new things. One of those new things for me that is cheap to explore is podcasting. I have decided to stick my head out there and see what happens with American Urbex Podcast. There are a few episodes already recorded and I have scheduled release dates set. Using some of the money donated to American Urbex, I have invested into hosting for a podcast.
What is the American Urbex Podcast?
In the first couple of episodes I will be talking about some of the places I have explored. I will discuss some of the background information, the location details, and what motivates me to keep going. Future episodes will address topics such as research methods, preservation, camera equipment, online resources and more. The natural rhythm and flow of the podcast will work itself out as time goes on. So without further ado I present unto the public the American Urbex Podcast.
The monumental Brach’s candy factory in Chicago is a crumbling shrine to “The World’s Candy Capital.” Perhaps more appropriately though, the colossal factory is a tombstone marking the agonizing death of the American Dream. The factory is a well-known urbex location in the greater Chicago area. It was a great thrill to finally get to explore it physically. Before I delve into that let’s explore the factory intellectually.
German immigrant Emil J. Brach was an ambitious 22 year-old when he came to Chicago in 1881 to work for the Bunte Brothers & Spoehr candy manufacturers. The spendthrift Brach saved $15,000, which he invested into a candy company that quickly went under. Learning from his mistakes Brach rolled up his sleeves and took matters into his own hands. In 1904 the 45 year-old Brach invested $1000 and opened his own “Palace of Sweets” at the corner of North Avenue and Towne Street. With the help of sons Edwin and Frank, Brach attracted locals by making the delicious sweets in a single kettle in the rear of the store and placing them in attractive displays in the front. Customers craved Brach’s popular caramel in particular, which at 20 cents per pound was much cheaper than retailers’ 50-60 cents per pound. To keep up with demand Frank Brach delivered sweets to local department stores for customer convenience.
Photo: The beautiful terrra cotta Brach’s logo outside the abandoned factory.
The Brach’s company would move three more times between 1906 and 1913 to keep up the rapid expansion of their operations. Shipping was vital to their ever growing business. The company dispatched candy via horse, vehicle, mail-order and even by rail. The company’s widening markets expanded along with their burgeoning product line. Within that early growth period Brach’s added hard candies, ice cream, chocolates and nut products to their repertoire. In 1923 Brach consolidated operations into a $5 million facility designed by architect Alfred Alschuler at the intersection of Kilpatrick, Ferdinand, and the Beltline railroad tracks. At that time the company produced over 250 candy variations at about 4 million pounds per week. During the boom years Brach hired workers of all ethnic backgrounds. For years company notices were printed in multiple languages.
Photo (source): A Brach’s employee overlooks the panning procedure that gives hard candy its lustre.
Managing Brach’s reputation for quality was a top priority for the company. They were the first candy producer to implement a “Laboratory for Control” to inspect products. All candies came with a 30-day money-back guarantee and were shipped in special containers to assure freshness.
At the height of the Great Depression Brach’s was able to post a net income of $175,000 even with a dismal $1.27 million in sales, all while keeping more than 1000 people employed. The company was the first to grant employees raises during the severe economic downturn. They also served meals at cost to keep their employees well fed and motivated. During World War II the company was given the Army & Navy Production Award for the high-quality rations produced for the troops. 327 Brach’s employees served in the Armed Forces during the war effort and eight made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. On September 7, 1948 an electrical spark ignited corn starch and caused an explosion on the third floor. The explosion destroyed much of the north side of the factory. The disaster injured 18 and killed 11 employees, but occurred before the day shift before 2,400 employees began.
Emil J. Brach worked vigorously until the day he died in 1947 at age 88. By that time Emil positioned Brach’s as the #1 bulk producer of candy in the US. Sons Edwin and Frank took over operations after their father’s passing. They tapped into the exploding middle-class market by positioning attractive candy displays in groceries and purchasing ads on television. The Brach brothers didn’t lose their nostalgia for their old shop either. In 1958 they introduced the signature “Pick-A-Mix” kiosks which are still present in modern supermarkets. Edwin passed away at the age of 70 in 1965 leaving his brother Frank in charge. By the 1960’s Brach’s produced over 500 individual types of candies. Unable to keep pace on his own, an aging 75 year-old Frank Brach put the company up for sale in 1966 and it was purchased by American Home Products.
Photo: One of the few remaining markers identifying the building owner.
Frank’s death in 1970 left wife Helen at the helm of the Brach’s candy fortune. Helen Brach visited the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota on February 17, 1977 and was never heard from again. Investigations into the millionaire’s disappearance failed to yield any conclusive evidence as to her whereabouts and she was officially declared dead in 1984. It wasn’t until 1989 that a federal investigation into horse racketeering turned the focus to her then lover Richard Bailey. Bailey had conned Brach into investing in horses and their relationship soured when Helen discovered the scam. Bailey was eventually convicted in 1994 of multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy to commit murder in connection with Helen’s disappearance. In 2005 accomplice Joe Plemmons came forward to authorities describing his role in the crime. According to Plemmons, he fired two rounds rounds into the visibly beaten body of Helen Brach. Plemmons then escorted two accomplices to an active steel mill off of Interstate 65. Two steel mill employees held blast furnace doors open when Helen Brach’s corpse was fed into a trough and incinerated.
Acquisition of the Brach’s brand traded hands over the past few decades. In 1987 American Home Products sold Brach’s to european candy and coffee producer James Suchard. Principle stockholder Klaus J. Jacobs sold Suchard off to Philip-Morris in 1990, but retained ownership of the Brach’s business units. In 1994 Jacobs merged Brach’s with another property he purchased, Brock Candy Company, to form Brach & Brock Confections, Inc. Ownership changed hands again in 2003 when Brach & Brock Confections, Inc. was sold to the world’s largest chocolate manufacturer Barry-Callebaut headquartered in Zürich, Switzerland.
Photo (akagoldfish): The abandoned factory as seen from the cracking parking lot.
The Chicago factory fell on hard times in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Artificially inflated domestic sugar costs and strict import quotas put in place by the US Department of Agriculture made operating costs in Chicago difficult for Brach’s. (These policies have essentially crippled candy production throughout the United States.) High labor costs also exacerbated the situation to the point where the owners decided to shutter the aging plant. Brach’s began laying off employees in 2001 and gradually continued until 2003. After 76 years in operation the “Palace of Sweets” closed its doors. Production of Brach’s candies resumed in Mexico where labor and sugar are more cost effective.
Video: Amateur video of the Brach’s administration building demolition.
Photo: Scene from The Dark Knight. Copyright Warner Brothers.
In August of 2007 the location was used as a set for filming The Dark Knight. The former parking deck was completely demolished in the scene in which the Joker destroys Gotham General Hospital. The factory can also be seen in the shot (far left), which was also rigged to fire explosives from the windows. The final scene from the Dark Knight can be viewed here.
Photo: A lone sign warns factory explorers of the dangerous wet floor.
Soon after filming occurred Brach’s Confections was sold to current owners Farley & Sathers for an undisclosed sum in November 2007. The sale includes current manufacturing facilities located in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Winona, Minnesota; and Linares, Mexico. After four years without a tenant ML Realty Partners, LLC purchased the vacated Chicago factory in 2008 for redevelopment into a warehouse. Visible progress on that project has not materialized.
Photo: The Chicago skyline can be seen in the background of the factory.
The abandoned Brach’s candy factory, much like the Barber-Colman plant, impressed me with its sheer magnitude. We were there for four hours before recognizing the time. Even after all that exploring we still failed to traverse much of the factory. Despite the immense size of the factory most areas were barren or cloaked in darkness enitrely. Almost every possible surface has been covered by taggers in a bid for some kind of street-cred. The upper floors in one of the larger towers are all but inaccessible without the aid of proper climbing equipment. The exteriors are perhaps the most visually engaging elements of the factory. If you are looking for photographic gems the total number of opportunities are sparse. In my opinion the Brach’s factory has a sweeter history than adventure potential. I’m quite satisfied, however, that I checked this off my urbex list before it disappears entirely.
Wikipedia – Entry for missing Brach’s heiress Helen Brach.
Super Fictional Bonus!
Editor’s Note: The following biographical information about Emil J. Brach cannot be confirmed by legitimate academic resources. This excerpt from the 1996 book “Germans are Bad-Ass: A Compendium of Bad-Assery Throughout History Minus Hitler” is considered to be a complete fabrication.
Brach’s candy is synonymous with joyfully delicious candy, but few are aware of Emil J. Brach’s sinister motives for creating sugary sweets. As a German, Brach’s love for fine chocolate was surpassed only by Schadenfreude. Emil had a troubled upbringing as a child. His father Augustus was a dentist obsessed with hygiene, but is also described by sources as a vitriolic alcoholic with foul temperament. Brach’s mother Gerta was a strict Protestant who severely punished young Emil for the slightest infraction. In her mid-40’s Gerta was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, which up until the 1930’s was considered a death sentence. The diagnosis crushed Augustus and sent him into a sustained alcohol-fueled depression. Emil took great pleasure in seeing his oppressive mother robbed of her strength, particularly after she ate her secret stash of chocolate sweets. Gerta eventually slipped into a coma and passed away after a lengthy ordeal. The next day Augustus was struck by a carriage and passed away from the sustained injuries. With his parents out of the way, Emil vowed to immigrate to the land of opportunity to exact Schadenfreude from dentists and diabetics by carefully crafting a seemingly benevolent sweets empire.
American Urbex put out the call for interviews and Brandon Davis answered. The Cleveland area amateur photographer has been urbexing for about three years now. Like other urbex photographers, he has become enraptured by the effects of decay.
AU: What is it about urbex that attracts you?
BD: Abandoned buildings, to me, are a part of history that is being lost little by little each day. Each structure I step into is like a step back into time. Its interesting to stand and imagine where people sat or worked on that very floor. I enjoy documenting the way human and natural elements have caused each building to decay in such interesting ways. Urbex locations are all places that local cities have forgotten about, just left to rot into the ground. In some cases, this can be a very sad thing. Old buildings have beautiful and amazing architectural qualities. Its surprising that building owners and city officials could just leave them behind.
AU: What was the first urbex location you visited?
BD: The first urbex site I ever explored was the old U.S. Coast Guard Station in Cleveland, OH. This structure is right on Lake Erie and has a very unique design. I also knew some of the history about the building. It had been abandoned since the late 1980’s after the coast guard moved its operations to the other side of the city. The building was also converted into a restaurant for a short while after that. I knew that the inside would probably be just as interesting as the outside, so I was determined to go check it out. The exterior was full of NO TRESPASSING signs and boards, but me and my friend found a way in through an open window.
Once we were inside the building, I got my first glimpse at the peeling paint and rotting floors that are typical for abandoned structures. It amazed me that such decay could happen in a building and it made me want capture it just as I saw it, with an interesting and artistic view. I have returned to the Coast Guard Station many times since my first visit. My photos of this location have gotten better and better each time.
AU: What is one of the most interesting items you have found urbexing?
BD: On one of those return visits [to the U.S. Coast Guard Station] I found an old menu for The Island, which is the name of the restaurant that occupied the building after the Coast Guard left. The paper menu was discolored and crumbling, much like the interior of the building. I liked finding this item because it showed firsthand the life and history this building had. It also gave the location a special character and made me appreciate it that much more.
AU: What sort of gear do you bring with you when you go urbexing?
BD: When I go out to explore places, I bring my Sony A-100 and Sony A-300 along with a 2.8 aperture, 28 mm. Minolta lens, and a Sony 75-300 telephoto zoom lens. I enjoy these cameras because they perform great in low-light situations, which occur in most abandoned locations. I am also very familiar with the controls on Sony cameras, so I can have excellent control over what I want to capture.
Along with the camera gear, I also bring a flashlight or two, and a good pair of gloves. Typically I go out urbex shooting with a group of friends. I like to keep the crew number to three or four, which I’ve found is a great number of people to join me on a shoot. A larger group has the risk of causing a scene, or making too much noise.
AU: What is your worst urbex experience?
BD: My worst urbex experiences come when I try hard to gain access to a building but find that there is no way in. In one particular case, I was trying to explore an office building in Cleveland with one of my friends. This office building was right next to an active news station, so we had to be very careful. I had been to this location before and this was a return visit. After successfully getting inside the fence, we checked all sides of the building and couldn’t find a single way in. The door I entered the first time was now locked. We spend about 45 minutes trying to get in and ended up wasting all that time for nothing. Situations like these occur every once in a while for me, and they are always extremely frustrating.
Thanks to Brandon for answering some questions for American Urbex and being the interview guinea pig prototype. Getting a wide variety of urbex perspectives is essential for casting urbex in a positive light. If you would like to share your experiences, please answer the call.
Photographer Nick Forslund assembled a book for his senior art project at UW-Whitewater. Gary: A Texture Tour contains photos from our urbex trip to Gary, Indiana, which was funded by American Urbex contributors. I am thrilled that he used American Urbex and some of my own photos as a resource. The end product makes for one fascinating coffee table book. They are available for purchase at Blurb. We realize the cost is a bit steep, but there is no profit made at all on this product. Each copy is custom printed when it is ordered and the quality is amazing. In any case they make great presents for the holiday.
Normally when I go to an urbex location it has been abandoned for quite some time. This definitely was not the case this time around. This hotel was foreclosed upon sometime in early 2010. From the looks of it, the employer ran out of time to remove their property. The pool was still half full of water. Networking equipment sat behind the front desk. The bar still had beer, juice, and other foodstuffs behind it. Despite being right next to a major highway the hotel is not easy to get to from the nearest exit. The nightly logbook indicates that even on weekends the hotel only had 3-4 check-ins. Employees recorded their malaise dealing with sheer boredom.
If the United States economic woes continue unabated I have no doubt that this will not be my last urbex adventure in a foreclosed property.
Photo: Keys to the conference rooms.
Photo: The view from the lobby. Photo taken by Nick Forslund.
Photo: One of the undisturbed rooms. It is good to see that vandals or copper thieves have not made their way through the building. Photo by bitter_buffalo33.
Photo: Despite the extreme cold the pool area remains quite humid.
Photo: The whirlpool was completely empty.
Photo: The basement refrigeration doors were made of wood. Photo by Nick Forslund.
Photo: The damp basement provides the perfect environment for mold to thrive. Photo by Nick Forslund.