Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Brewster's Ice: Since 1945

At the corner of Lake and 6th Streets, Brewster's Ice has been a family-run business for 67 years. They still sell block ice, dry ice, special orders for events, and they deliver in Huntington Beach...just like the "olden days."  (Photo, Aug. 28, 2012)
   
   Before refrigerators were in every home, there was the "ice man." The 'fridge was called an "ice box" (for you youngsters, see below).  People set a sign in their window with the numbers: 25, 50, 75, 100, representing pounds of ice.  That let the ice man know how big a block of ice to haul from his truck into the house.    

    The ice man became a friend, a regular visitor, a neighborhood institution.  He was part of the family, walking into the kitchen to place the heavy block of ice in the ice box for the busy housewife.

   Two blocks east of the historic downtown's Main Street is Huntington Beach's ice man: Brewster's Ice.  


   Although not a featured spot on the walking tour, it's definitely worth wandering over to take a look at vintage Huntington Beach.

Directions to Brewster's Ice:  Walking north (inland) up Main Street, turn right on 6th Street.  Brewster's is two short blocks east, at the corner of 6th and Lake streets.

Brewster's famously-faded exterior is the perfect spot for a unique photo backdrop and has been used for commercials and print advertising.  Brewster's owner says children used to hang around the ice chute, hoping for a chunk of ice on a hot day.  (Photo, August 28, 2012)

   City historian Jerry Person wrote about Brewster's Ice in a 2004 column, A journey up Railroad Avenue, for the Huntington Beach Independent.  


   "This piece of Huntington Beach history has stood at this location since 1945," notes Person, "when Virgil Brewster purchased the war surplus icehouse from the military just after World War II ended."   Brewster, a graduate of Huntington Beach High School on Main Street, moved the icehouse to its current location.

   The 1940s and 1950s were still a busy time for the ice business.  Although refrigerators were put into mass production post World War II, it took a while for refrigerators to become commonplace appliances.  And, large quantities of ice were still needed by fish mongers, restaurants and markets.  Today, Brewster's Ice is a favorite for locals, beach goers and event planners.

 
   
 Brewster's Ice, at the corner of 6th and Lake streets.  Hours and prices are posted outside.  (Photo, Sept. 15, 2012)

   Local author and columnist Chris Epting wrote about Brewster's Ice for the Huntington Beach Independent in 2007 (In the Pipeline: Old school ice shop stays cool)*.  Epting wrote that Virgil Brewster would "lug ice over to the old Golden Bear, the Surf Theater, and most restaurants. If you wanted ice, you'd call Brewster's, plain and simple."

Virgil Brewster delivering ice at the back of the Huntington Beach jail, circa 1940s. (Photo courtesy of Huntington Beach Historic Resources Board)

   Epting also got a tutorial on ice, learning that "not all ice is created equal."  He writes, "you might think you know ice, but until you hear it explained, believe me — you don't know ice."  Brewster's Ice is a living lesson in how someone adopts a craft and does not take shortcuts to compromise quality.

   One reviewer on Yelp called Brewster's the "coolest thing (pun intended) besides the super fresh and clear ice is that they deliver (only in HB)!  Just like the olden days of milk, bread, coal, and yes ice, that was delivered right to your door (yes I am old enough to remember all of them)."   

   Another said, "by far the best place to get ice. way cheaper than the grocery store. the owners are some of the most friendly people. when you go budget for some extra time. it is way too easy to get wrapped up in a good conversation with the owners. I have been coming to this place all of my life." 

This 1906 cartoon illustrates how much the ice man was part of American culture and daily life.  (Image, Los Angeles Herald, November 4, 1906)

    We highly recommend you wander off the beaten path for a few minutes to see some true Americana and a beloved piece of Huntington Beach history: Brewster's Ice.

Brewster's Ice, 613 6th Street, Huntington Beach, CA (714) 536-3370

*Read Chris Etping's column about Brewster's Ice, In the Pipeline: Old school ice shop stays cool, at http://articles.hbindependent.com/2007-07-04/news/hbi-pipeline05_1_dog-beach-blocks-alice-gustafson

Editor's note: Huntington Beach isn't the only California city that loves its historic icehouse.  The Sausalito, California, Historical Society's downtown historic exhibit and visitors' center is in their old icehouse. 

All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Huntington Beach blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.   

6 comments:

  1. I've been a customer of their's since 1978...great people, great service yet a bit like going back in time..a real 'feel good' experience

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  2. Without Brewster's, there would be no ice at the Taste of Huntington Beach - we still rely on them!!

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  3. My father Kenneth Campbell owned the Huntington Beach Ice House in the early 40's until just after the second world war. I rode in the back of the ice truck when the armistices was signed, we traveled down the main street, I was 8 or 9 years old at that time. This ice house was not an army surplus when my father bought the business. At the time I was in grammar school.

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  4. City council minutes in November, 1945, document Virgil Brewster and his partner, Ernie Anshutz, discussing their desire to move their ice house. The Home Ice and Cold Storage Company (which became Brewster's) was permitted by the Huntington Beach City Council to cut the curb for their business entrance at Frankfort and Lake street on February 3, 1947, where Brewster's Ice is today. If your ice house was a different business, and you know the name of the business and/or the general street location, I can try to track it down!

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  5. Loved this article. My family had a trailer in the Huntington Beach Municipal Trailer Park, 2 rows of trailers that ran between the ocean and PCH from Lake St. (now 1st) to Beach Blvd., from 1951 to 1960. We lived in the San Gabriel Valley but moved to the trailer & lived there all summer. Mr. Brewster delivered ice to the trailers. He always wore a faded blue t-shirt, suspenders and had a stub of a cigar in his mouth. All us kids chased his truck through the park, snatching slivers of ice out of the open back when he took a block into a trailer. He'd grumble & growl & yell at us to 'get away from the truck' and we'd squeel & run away. But he always left us nice big pieces of ice when he broke up the blocks with his pick. When last I was there in 2005 buying ice I reminisced with his son-in-law who was still running the place.

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  6. From 1951 to 1960 my family spent our summers in our trailers at the Huntington Beach Municipal Trailer Park; two rows of trailers that ran parallel to PCH on the ocean side, from 1st St. (formerly Lake St.) to Beach Blvd. Mr. Brewster delivered ice to all the trailers' ice boxes. All us kids chased his truck, jumping up and grabbing small chunks of ice out of the open back that was full of big blocks of ice. He always wore a faded blue t-shirt, suspenders and a stub of a cigar in his mouth. When he'd go inside a trailer we'd all jump up on the truck and grab ice chips. He'd come back out and growl & grumble & yell at us to get away and we'd run away, squealing. But he always chipped off nice big chunks of ice for us to find. I bought my ice there until 2008 and had some conversations with his son-in-law, who was still operating it then with Mr. Brewster's daughter. Great memories. Nice man.

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