Update, Oct. 9, 2013 – We have an important update to this story. Click here to see the rest of the story.
As originally posted on September 23, 2013 – A big, red ‘R’ will soon return to the Seattle skyline. Rejoice! In 1999, I spearheaded a community effort to Save R Brewery when Strohs bought Rainier and announced plans to close the Seattle brewery along Interstate 5. You can still read about my efforts on the Seattle Times website. I’m no dummy and fully recognized the inevitability of the brewery’s demise. Heileman Brewing Company bought Rainier Beer, Strohs bought G. Heileman, then Pabst bought Strohs, and so on and so on. It’s the way of Big Beer. They merge, they acquire, they consolidate, and occasionally they brew beer. Still, some history should be preserved amidst all that corporate mumbo-jumbo.
My Save R Brewery campaign was a cheap publicity stunt I admit, but part of me really did want to save the old brewery and the big, glowing, red ‘R’ that had graced the Seattle skyline for my entire life. I know many of you are either too young or too new to Seattle to remember what I’m talking about, but trust me, it was a sad day in Seattle beer history when the big ‘R’ came down.
I think most hardcore Seattleites rejoiced when Tully’s Coffee agreed to occupy the building, helping to spare it from the wrecking ball, but it was a cold slap in the face when the big, green ‘T’ went up. Turns out, that wasn’t the only mistake made by the old Tully’s regime. Fast forward to today and Tully’s Coffee has a new, more-enlightened ownership group. In what I consider to be a stroke of public relations genius, the new owners just announced that they are returning the big, red R to its rightful place. It’s not just about gaining public approval; they just think it is the right thing to do.
Michael Avenatti, Tully’s chairman and part owner, understands. In a press statement he said, “The replacement of the ‘R’ with the ‘T’ some 13 years ago was a mistake. That part of the Seattle skyline has always truly belonged to the ‘R’.”
In response to a tweet from me, Avenatti said, “The ‘T’ should have never displaced the ‘R.’ As the son of a 31-year Bud worker in St. Louis, even I knew that.” (follow him at
The original and recently restored ‘R’ is now property of the Museum of History and Industry. No worries, Tully’s has commissioned Seattle’s own Western Neon to produce a new one. It won’t be the original, but I’ll take it.
In Seattle, we are quick to throw things away. This is a dynamic community, largely populated by newcomers with no sense of local history. Anything that reminds Seattle that there was life before Microsoft and Amazon is a good thing. There is nothing wrong with today’s Seattle. Quite the opposite. We live in Boom City, USA and I appreciate that, but it doesn’t hurt to remember the city’s past. I don’t want to wax nostalgic about Seattle history, but it’s not something that should be completely ignored either.
The Kingdome is gone forever. The Alaskan Way Viaduct will soon follow suit. Don’t even get me started about the Sonics. We need something besides the Space Needle to remind us of the city’s past. So cheers to Tully’s and the return of the big, red ‘R’. Now we just need to convince Elysian Brewing to put a giant ‘E’ atop their brewery in Georgetown.
By the way, I encourage all you newcomers to spend some time at the Museum of History and Industry and learn a little bit about your new home. Great museum. A fantastic way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon.
picture courtesy of Museum of History and Industry