Gentle Ben’s has been on this block since 1971 and has been brewing award winning brews since 1991. The original house was located under what is now the lobby of the Marriott Hotel. Built in 1908 as a private residence for the Hamilton family, over the years it served as the University president’s house, a boarding house and home to several fraternities. The name Gentle Ben’s was chosen through a contest and the winner was a University professor who thought the manager looked like Dan Haggerty from the T.V. show Grizzly Adams whose co-star was a bear named Gentle Ben. That show was based on a man who roamed parts of Northern California in the 1920s and 30s. He had two bears, Benjamin Franklin and Martha Washington. Martha was a mean bear by people standards and had to be kept chained to a stake. The other was gentle and was free to roam, hence Gentle Ben.Gentle Ben’s Brewing Company of Tucson
Brewing began in 1991 when I bought the business and installed what, at the time, was the only brewery in Tucson. We started with three beers; Tucson Blonde, Red Cat Amber and Copperhead Pale Ale, all still brewed today and joined by five other styles. In 1994 the Marshall Foundation who owns most of the real estate in the neighborhood including the old Ben’s, informed me of plans to raze the block and offered us a chance to rebuild.
At the time, the location was The U of A Center for Architectural Landscaping. We were allowed much input on the building design and decided to save the foundation and triple red brick walls of the one story building. The structure was originally built as a bank in 1970. Much of the wood and brick salvaged from the original Bens and the bank were used in the new construction. The old vault and its two foot thick concrete ceiling is still intact, holding up the 30,000 pounds of beer in the upstairs cold box and serving as the office and employee room. We tripled the size of the original kitchen and our brewing capacity as well so we can offer kegs to the other bars and restaurants in the state. Ben’s history would not be complete without a nod to the thousands of people who have worked under the Bear and the millions of patrons over the years who have made the future possible. "