Brewsters Beer Garden

Project Description

A low impact approach to urban infill with less enclosure and more outdoor experience was the intention of the proprietors of the beer garden. The only required structures were the kitchen and restrooms so they became the main building block that was tested for best locations. Site plan studies for the main building block examined issues of slope, wind, accessibility, parking, views, privacy, noise, loading, sun and visibility. The program included seating for 300, a bar, a bocce court, a children’s play area, a satellite bar and a tree canopy over the majority of the outdoor area.


Three concepts drove the design – 1) visually extend the park across the street with a living roof, 2) block the prevailing wind, and 3) frame the view of Dairymen’s Feed, the town’s icon.


To fit the structure into the historic stone and brick walls and leave them fully exposed in varying states of arrested decay is unusual. Because of the active nature of the beer garden, these walls add a rich backdrop rather than a focal point, but there is a connection and an understanding of respect for history and re-purposing of this space.


The variations of experiences within the beer garden is a collaboration of outdoor space and built space where one flows seamlessly into the other, where there is a balance between public and enclosed and community and private.


The space is fully accessible and because of the natural grade of the river bank and the slope of the site and other vertical constraints, the design was worked to achieve a level that allows total access to the entire facility.


Besides the happiness that is seen by the crowds that come every night even in winter, Brewsters has been a catalyst for stagnant growth in downtown Petaluma. Since Brewsters’ success, 150 new housing units are going forward for the first time in 15 years since the adoption of the new zoning.  Yes, there is beer and trees, but there is something more, the spirit of the place is expressed and everyone can feel it.

Design Challenge

Challenge: Convincing the city to allow a living roof where a two story building was required by the zoning code.   The first hurdle was to get an unconventional project approved and Brewsters happened to be the first project approved under the new form based SmartCode. The code for a new building on Main Street requires a two story building at minimum. The argument was made that if the building did not project above the sidewalk, it was not a building on Main Street and therefore, the form based code did not apply.   Once this was approved, the challenge to make a living roof work with the height constraint was dealt with. Because this was a split level site, there were two frontages to respond to. So the living roof that related to the park across the street and a tall, more visible entry structure was positioned at the river front.

Physical Context

The built context is rich with 100 year old buildings of an historic Main Street and a bygone river industry. Brick, plaster and glass are Main Street materials, but this project was river oriented. Distressed brick like the three story south border of the beer garden added color, texture and meaning, but Brewsters needed to be a light airy structure that was talking to the giant grain silo so the material of choice was steel.   The intent was to the contrast of a steel shell with a warm wood interior – and trees. Douglas Fir trusses with exposed plates was designed for a subtle butterfly roof shape which brings in light from both sides. The trusses are supported by raw steel wide flange frames and a shear wall at the kitchen. All outward facing surfaces are clad in horizontal galvanized corrugated steel and all inward facing walls are reclaimed redwood. Doors, gates and the entry stair at the edges of the beer garden are raw steel. The hardy materials and structure are harmonious not only to the context, but to the function of the beer garden.   Wind Block/ Comfort: Easy enough if the wind only came in one direction, but the solution was to block the coldest wind, which was coming from the coastal breeze from the west.   Frame the view of Dairymens: It was argued that by keeping the building low, the full view to the town icon would be preserved. This was a point for wayfinding and understanding the sense of place from the vantage point of Main Street. In addition, Brewsters historical site was the home of the Petaluma Incubator Factory and the remaining stone walls define the west, south and north edges of the original building. The dining structure is set inside these walls.   Park Extension: The site drops 12 feet below the Main Street sidewalk, which would bring a low roof design almost level with the sidewalk making a great opportunity for a living roof. Cueing off the park across the street, the sense of the park green was extended to the roof of the main building. The clerestory at the covered dining structure rises 8 feet above the living roof with windows that let the setting sun in and allows views to the park above.   Entry Issues: With a double frontage in the middle of the block, clarity of entry was essential. Main Street is the pedestrian and neighborhood entry which was identified by a public art piece – a tree sculpture by artist Brian Tedrick. Water Street is the riverfront entry and was designed to be tall enough to be seen by vehicular traffic from a mid block position.