WareTranz bringing life back to old Jax Beer brewery

A look inside the last brewery built in the country before Prohibition and one local entrepreneur's plans to create jobs and economic activity in the inner city by bringing it back online.

The History of the Jax Brewing Company

(Jacksonville Historic Preservation Office)

Married to the daughter of Jacob Schorr of Schorr-Kolkschneider Brewing Company of St. Louis, with the help of the Schorr family, William Ostner broke ground the Jacksonville Brewing Company in 1913. The first brew from Ostner’s 30,000 barrel a year brewery hit the market on May 16, 1914. By the time Jacksonville went dry in 1918, the brewery’s employment was up to 243 and its debts had been retired. During Prohibition, the brewery’s name was changed to the Jax Ice and Cold Storage Company and the production of beer was replaced with Velvet Brand ice cream, Florida Export and Old Fashioned Dark “near beer” and the bottling of root beer and ginger ale. Anticipating the end of prohibition, brewing capacity was expanded four months before the passage of the 21st Amendment, enabling Ostner to hit the ground running in 1933.

In 1940, the company’s name was changed to the Jax Brewing Company and by 1943, production had increased to 100,348 barrels annually. By the 1950s, its Jax Beer label and trademark cockatoo dominated the Florida, Georgia and South Carolina drinking scenes. Other brands included Ostner’s Lager Beer, Ostner’s Sparkling Ale, Ostner’s Stout, Hi Jax Beer, Jax Export Beer, Mecca Pale Beer, Jax Ale, Jax Brock, Royal Palm Beer, Fine’s Sparkling Ale, Peninsula Ale and Rhein King Beer. Due to the high cost of aluminum cans and the rising revenues of Jax Brewing’s cold storage operation, Ostner’s son sold his Jax Beer copyright to New Orleans-based Jackson Brewing Company in 1956.

(Ennis Davis, AICP/Moderncities)

The Jacksonville brewery was then repositioned as the Jax Ice and Cold Storage Company. In 1986, the business was sold to Industrial Cold Storage (now ICS Logistics). Today, the abandoned 130,000-square-foot brewery is one of a handful early Florida regional brewery buildings still standing.

Before WareTranz Photographs

Photographs of the interior of the old Jax Brewery prior to WareTranz signing a 15-year lease on the property and beginning the cleanup process. Before photographs courtesy of Deatri Ikner (warehouse manager)

Inside the former Jax Brewing Company

A look inside the interior of the former Jax Brewing Company. The portion of the complex covered included structures built during Prohibition in 1925 and immediately following World War II in 1947. Photographs by Ledia Durmishaj and Ennis Davis, AICP.

1. From left to right: Ennis Davis (Modern Cities), Tony Gardner (CEO of WareTranz) and Deatri Ikner (WareTranz warehouse manager)

  1. With the help of the Schorr-Kokschneider brewing family, William Ostner and good friend Jacob Bongner broke ground on the Jax Brewing Company on June 9, 1913. Approximately 64 years before the birthdate of this article’s author ;-).

3. The capacity of Ostner’s $182,000 plant was 30,000 barrels annually, utilizing a 150-barrel kettle provided by the Goetz Company of Chicago. It included a five story brew house that featured an elaborate ornate roof tower above the streets of Grand Park. The upper floors of the brewhouse, along with the brewery’s smokestack and boiler house, was removed in 1970.

  1. Jacob Bongner, the brewery’s president, never imagined the American public would enact laws prohibiting the brewing of beer. As a result of the Volstead Act, Bongner dismissed 243 employees, drew the fires from the boilers, opened up the vats, locked the outside gate and went home.

  2. During Prohibition, other products keeping the plant’s doors open included manufacturing ice, ice cream and bottling root beer and ginger ale for the Charles Hires Company of Philadelphia.

  3. The largest building on site, which dates back to 1925, features four thick floors of solid concrete, making it one of the most structurally sound buildings in the area.

  4. When this section of the plant opened in 1925, the brewery employed 45 with a monthly payroll of $6,000.

  5. A section of roof truss dating back to Ostner’s 1925 expansion of the brewery.

  6. This section of the brewery was built to accommodate cold storage customers such as Gerber’s baby juices and Borden’s dairy products.

  7. Reminders of the thousands employed over the last century litter the brewery’s interior walls and columns.

  8. Shortly after World War II, the brewery purchased 100,000 durable stacks from Towers Hardware, emblazoned Jax Beer on them and sold beer six to a sack, creating the concept of the six-pack.