The Mayfield Brewery


Intro

I was looking at some Sanborn Fire Insurance maps and I discovered that just down the street from where I used to live in Palo Alto there was once a brewery that operated for almost 50 years before Prohibition. I knew a bit about Mayfield history but this was the first I had heard of the brewery. So, it was a pet project of mine for a while to learn all I can about it. Here are some of the notes I collected on Mayfield history and the Mayfield Brewery.

Mayfield Brewery

The Mayfield Brewery stood at the corner of what is now California Avenue and Birch Street in Palo Alto. The brewery operated from 1868 to sometime just before prohibition (1920). They brewed steam beer, a very common style in California at the time, and delivered the beer in kegs to local saloons. The brewery operated even after Mayfield became a dry town in 1905 and closed all its saloons. Prohibition finally shut down the brewery sometime just before 1920.

Some History

Kleinclaus's brewery

The brewery was started in 1868 by Michel Kleinclaus, a native of Alsace. It started out as The Mayfield Railroad Brewery but at some point, "Railroad" was dropped from the name.

The brewery was originally located on Lincoln Street close to Third (California Avenue and Park Blvd.) but was soon moved to the corner of Lincoln and Second Streets which is now California Avenue and Birch Street. 1,2

Some tax records suggest Kleinclaus may have been brewing and selling beer in Howland Flat (Gold Country) for 5 years before coming to Mayfield.

Another Mayfield Brewery operated around 1870 on Main street (now El Camino) by Alexander Minch from Switzerland.* Perhaps soon after Minch's brewery closed whoever owned the brewery dropped Railroad from the name.

Christopher Ducker's brewery

In 1871, Christopher Ducker bought the brewery from Kleinclaus. Ducker had just moved to the area from San Francisco and also ran a saloon in Mayfield with his brother Henry.* Ducker would run the brewery for 35 years, sometimes with a partner, Leonard Distel.3

Mayfield Goes Dry

Mayfield probably already had a reputation as a rowdy drinking town in 1886. That's when Leland Stanford approached the unincorporated burg and politely asked the town leaders if they would close their saloons. He felt the town would be a bad influence on the students of his new University. But, with a brewery and thirteen saloons, Mayfield was unwilling to give up its booze (bless their hearts). Apparantly, many were skeptical of Stanford's upstart school.

Stanford also approached Menlo Park about going dry and was politely turned down there too. So, Stanford had his friend Timothy Hopkins create a new town. Palo Alto formed where downtown Palo Alto is today (actually, it was first called University Park but later Palo Alto after Leland strong-armed the developers of College Terrace to give up the name). All parcels sold in Palo Alto had strict covanents in the property deeds against serving, selling, or manufacturing alcohol. Leland Stanford got his dry university town.

But, Stanford students, as you might have guessed, made their way to Mayfield and its saloons, much to the consternation of the university officals. In their frustration, the university went so far as to close the "West Gate" on the main road from campus to Mayfield to discourage the students (I'm not sure what road or where this gate would have been--- the roads from the university towards California avenue have changed a lot over the years). This further cut off Mayfield from trade with the University. Mayfield's reputation continued to deteriorate and most professors and university staff built their homes and did all their shopping in Palo Alto.

As Palo Alto prospered and Mayfield floundered, more residents were beginning to believe that it was a mistake not going dry as Stanford requested. The debate went on for years. In 1903, the town of Mayfield incorporated, probably just to address this issue. The idea gained momentum but the town's new board of trustees had at least one person opposed to going dry: Christopher Ducker, proprieter of the Mayfield Brewery.

In 1904, the board of trustees of Mayfield voted to become a dry town. Ducker was the lone dissenting vote. The new ordinance was to take effect Jan 1st, 1905. (The board was emboldened by a similar ordinance in Pasadena, CA, which had just been upheld in the state supreme court.) On Jan 1st, the saloons defied the order and opened. It was not until the next day that the ordinance was enforced with vigor. When the arrested saloon operators were brought before a preliminary hearing, Ducker taunted the board of trustees saying "Why don't you arrest me?" That probably ticked off the other trustees and didn't help his cause a few weeks later when the board debated the issue of wether to grant Ducker a wholesale license to continue brewing beer.4 The license narrowly passed with a tie vote broken by the President of the board of trustees. The board reconsidered a few days later and threatened to take away the license but they put off the action.5 The Mayfield Brewery survived (just barely).

On a side note, Mrs. Alexander Peers later contended (in an interview in 1928) that Mayfield's rowdy reputation was undeserved and probably exaggerated by real estate agents at the time trying to sell lots in newly formed Palo Alto. She also said the town was peaceful before the "roughneck" students arrived.

Klevesahl's Brewery

In 1906, Christopher Ducker retired and sold the Mayfield Brewery to Ernest C. Klevesahl. Ducker probably retired for health reasons. He moved to Palo Alto and died in 1910.

Klevesahl ran the brewery with his son Carl (brewer) and Ernest Jr. (bookkeeper). Klevesahl ran the brewery until it closed due to Prohibition sometime just before 1920.

It's unclear exactly when the brewery ceased operations. It does not appear in the 1918-1919 City Directory.

Today


This nondescript building sits where the Mayfield Brewery used to be.

Here are a few discoveries I've made about the Mayfield Brewery. Some are from the Mayfield files at the Palo Alto Historical Association's archives in the Palo Alto public library. Others are from microfilmed newspapers also in the Palo Alto library.


Drink Mayfield Steam


This was the first advertisement for Mayfield beer that I found. It was painted on a movie theatre curtain in 1906. The ad is in the upper right. At one time it hung on a wall of a downtown Palo Alto bank. I'm now told it is in storage with no plans for it.


Two Mayfield Breweries!?

I found these two ads on the same page in the Mayfield Enterprise:

First ad: Mayfield Brewery, Corner of Main and Grand [sic] , Mayfield. A. Minch Proprietor. Wholesale and retail dealer in The Choicest Wines, Liquors and Cigars. Also, the famous Mayfield LAGER BEER.

Second ad: The Mayfield Railroad Brewery. Lincoln Street, Mayfield. Lager Beer. At wholesale and Retail. Fresh yeast always on hand.

Mayfield Enterprise, March 12, 1870.


Another Mayfield Railroad Brewery ad

Mayfield Enterprise, November 25, 1870.


Handy to Have in the House

Kleinclaus, of the Railroad Brewery, is selling lager at $1.25 a keg (five gallons). Send for a keg: it is "handy to have in the house" this warm weather.

Couldn't agree more.

Mayfield Enterprise, April 16, 1870.


Ducker Brothers' Saloon

Before the brewery, Christopher Ducker ran a saloon with his brother Henry.

Mayfield Enterprise, March 26, 1870.


San Jose Daily Mercury News article, 1892

Among the industries of Mayfield the brewery conducted by C. Ducker & Co. takes a prominent place. The proprietors are C. Ducker and L. Distel and they manufacture a superior quality of steam beer. They are also agents for the Fredericksburg and United States Lager Beer.

The brewery was established in 1868 and has been under the same proprietorship since 1871. The building at the corner of Lincoln and Second streets is supplied with every appliance for making beer and has commodious storage cellars. The firm run wagons through the surrounding country and supply all of the saloon and family trade about Mayfield.

(A couple paragraphs in a San Jose Daily Mercury News cover article about Mayfield describe the brewery. Mayfield, the Charming University Town, San Jose Daily Mercury News, Jan 1, 1892.)


San Jose Municipal Record article, 1915.

Mayfield is a "dry town" by choice and by state law, but this does not affect the business of The Mayfield Brewery which with two modern auto trucks delivers its manufactured product to Woodside, Portola, Redwood City, San Mateo, and South San Francisco.

(Caption from a special issue of the San Jose Municipal Record in 1915.)


Acknowledgements

Steven Staiger of the Palo Alto Historical Association answers lots of my questions.

Footnotes

  1. T. B. Scott's Notes on Mayfield, Palo Alto Historical Association Archives.
  2. Sanborn Map, Mayfield, Sept. 1884
  3. The Tall Tree, vol IV, no 1 May, 1976,Mayfield 1850-1925, publication of the Palo Alto Historical Association
  4. Ducker Granted License, Palo Alto Times, Jan 18, 1905
  5. Ducker's Spirits Fall, Palo Alto Times, Jan 25, 1905

Thomas Skibo

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