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Kansas City, Missouri

Imperial Brewery

Undone by Prohibition, this abandoned brewery-turned-flour mill is now ready for its third act. 

The imposing brick building watching over Kansas City’s 1-35 is a remnant from the city’s golden age of brewing.

Brewing in Kansas City exploded after the Civil War. In 1850, the city had a mere 6,000 residents and two breweries. In the ensuing decades, the city’s population would double over and over again, with the beermaking industry along for the ride. By 1910, local breweries provided beer to 348 saloons for a population of over 200,000.

The Imperial Brewing Company began brewing its signature lagers—Mayflower and Imperial Seal—in  1902. At the time, it could produce 50,000 barrels of beer per year. The site was well-situated right next to new rail lines and near a cave that was cleared out and used for cold beer storage. In 1905, Imperial was snapped up by a new conglomerate, the Kansas City Breweries Company (KCBCo), and began to  produce KCBCo’s signature brew: Old Fashioned Lager. At its peak, the facility was churning out more than 300,000 barrels per year.

But trouble was also brewing. By 1881, neighboring Kansas had become a dry state and pro-Prohibition influences across the border in Missouri were growing. The passage of Prohibition swiftly cratered demand and the Imperial Brewery building was repurposed into a flour mill. It remained in operation though the 1980s, producing 1,200 barrels of flour per day.

The partially demolished building has now lain abandoned for several decades. Although the equipment inside is for milling, much of the old brewery remains. An extra floor was added to the main building when it became a mill, but the bones are the same. The power house remains, having been used as grain storage during the flourmaking years. And the barn that housed the draft horses who pulled delivery carts is still on the property.

The Imperial Brewing Company building was certified by the National Historical Society in 2011 and is owned by a private developer. The owner has made clear that the building will be renovated and many are waiting to see what it will become in its next life. 

Know Before You Go

The Imperial Brewery is located at the intersection of I-35 and Southwest Boulevard.