The Elks’ Student Prince

Hello from the History Department.

This brightly colored painting hangs in the pub at McMenamins Elks Temple in Tacoma, WA. But it wasn’t painted by one of our staff artists. This original oil painting, called Student Prince (ca. early 1930s), was graciously made available by Rudy Hansen, longtime employee at the revered Heidelberg Brewery of Tacoma.

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With a big smile, the Student Prince enthusiastically raises a glass of beer to welcome friends and guests. This terrific painting hung in the taproom of the Columbia (later Heidelberg) Brewery in Tacoma as part of an advertising campaign that ran for decades.

The Student Prince comes from the German play Alt Heidelberg (Old Heidelberg) by Wilhelm Meyer-Förster. Set in the fictional kingdom of Karlsburg, the prince is sent to Heidelberg University, where he falls in love with the local tavern keeper’s daughter. The story unfortunately ends in tragedy but it is not without its raucous tavern scenes, which made the main character appealing as an advertisement.

Tacoma’s Columbia brewery had opened in 1900 and began brewing the famous Alt-Heidelberg beer as early as 1912. By 1953, the company was renamed Heidelberg Brewery for its celebrated beer. When it closed for good in the spring of 1979, this oil painting was fated for the dump, but longtime employee Rudy Hansen rescued it.

Rudy is a Tacoma native who effectively launched his lifetime connection with beer starting when he was a young teenager, sweeping the floors of his dad’s local tavern. About a decade later, in the early 1950s, he returned from the Korean War and found work at the Heidelberg Brewery, where his father had been working for some time.

What started out for Rudy as a weekend and summer job turned into a career. He worked his way up the ladder to become an accomplished and innovative general sales manager for Heidelberg, overseeing the company’s promotion and advertising. When he left, upon the brewery’s absorption by a national brand, he was able to claim some of the brewery’s past advertising, including the Student Prince, which otherwise was bound for the dumpster.

Raise a glass (or a stein?) to Rudy when you pass by his rescued prince, now lording over the pub at the Elks Temple.

1 Comment

  1. MICHAEL J HASSUR on October 17, 2019 at 6:54 pm

    Great story… thank you.

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