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Brewerytown


Stiles Street West, Brewerytown Historic District, Philadelphia, PA, National Register

Photo: Stiles Street West, Brewerytown Historic District, Philadelphia, PA. The Brewerytown Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. Photographed by User:Smallbones (own work), 2010, [cc-by-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed October, 2013.

The Brewerytown Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. Text below was adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Brewerytown district occupies a distinct zone along the east edge of Fairmount Park north of Girard Avenue. It extends north to Glenwood Avenue which parallels the old "Connecting Branch" of the railroad. Spatially it is organized along the north-south axis of 31st Street, along which were constructed the brick buildings of Philadelphia's nineteenth century German lager brewing industry. The south edge of the district along Girard Avenue became the site of the homes of the brewery owners, while the east side contained the two-story rowhouses of workers, most of which were constructed by the breweries. Buildings fell off in size from west to east, with the largest being the multi-story brewhouses and the smallest the two-story rows of the workers. Despite the disastrous impact of Prohibition which destroyed the Philadelphia brewing industry, many of those buildings and the associated service structures survive, giving the Brewery town neighborhood its own flavor and character. German architecture of the late nineteenth century had developed a counterpart to the English Queen Anne, emphasizing subdivisions of the wall surface, strong textures, and complicated massing. These features came to identify the American German brewing industry, giving its buildings a strong visual presence which survives with a high degree of integrity, thereby characterizing the area around Brewery town.

The district is divided into several distinct subzones that describe the hierarchy of land use in the brewing industry. The German lager beer process required stable, cool temperatures where beer could be stored and where ice could be preserved for cooling in the spring, thereby lengthening the brewing season. The palisades of the banks of the Schuylkill offered such a location. The railroads along the northwest and southwest corners of the district provided access to transportation, which connected the industry to markets outside of the city. Breweries were located along the western edge of the district, near the caves and transportation, leaving their remaining property holdings for expansion to the east and north. That area later provided sites for company housing and community institutions owned by the brewers.

The transformation of the brewing industry in the late nineteenth century by the introduction of artificial refrigeration replaced the beer caves with tall, above-ground buildings. Electrical generating plants that powered the compressors for refrigeration were built to serve the industry. In Brewery town, the first was the West End Electric Company, which provided electricity until the formation of the Philadelphia Electric Company as a regulated public utility. The West End Electric building was located where the rail lines carrying coal crossed Girard Avenue (1200-1230 N. 31st street). In the twentieth century a second power plant was operated by the Philadelphia Electric Company at the north end of the site on 31st street above Jefferson.

The West End Electric was designed by William Decker (active 18751895), and is richly embellished with projecting brick piers framing a low central block broken by a large gable above a wagon door. A raised monitor skylight illuminates the vast interior of the plant where the boilers and generating equipment stood. In contrast to the exuberant detail of Decker's building is the 1930 refacing of a carbonation plant building for the Philadelphia Electric Company further north on 31st street which John T. Windrim designed in his corporate red brick with stone trim.

Other secondary service buildings were located near the utilities. Just to the north of the West End Electric building are a group of low, one-and two-story brick offices and sheds with wood cornices dating from the 1870s or 1880s which housed a wagon works (1230-1238 North 31st street). These served the important delivery side of the beer business. They are followed in turn by a handsome, three-story brick, brewers' supply warehouse (1242 North 31st street) constructed in the 1880s. Like the other commercial buildings of the district, its facade is subdivided by brick piers, with segmental stone arches spanning over openings. A galvanized metal cornice, flaring at the piers, crowns the building.

Of the ten breweries that once stood in the seven blocks of Brewery town, the most intact is the Poth Brewery on the 3100 block of Jefferson street. It offers the best opportunity to see the multiple building types that characterized the typical brewery. In the case of the Poth Brewery at 31st and Jefferson, the 1884 Hexamer survey (Figure 2), shows a four-story malt house on the south side of Jefferson; across the street to the north stood the four-story brewhouse with lagering house to the rear and wash house and stables to the west. By the turn of the century, the Poth complex had been largely transformed; the malt house had been reduced to a one-story building and was augmented by a machine house and wagon shed. The brewing operation had shifted to the south side of the street, where it was joined by a handsome office, designed by William Decker in a modified cruciform plan, now demolished. On the north side of Jefferson, the old brewery had been enlarged by flanking wings to make a vast refrigeration plant for lagering. Its enlargement occurred in 1904 from plans by Otto Wolf, who had worked for Poth for a decade. This building still stands, with only minor modifications to its central tower. The entire west side of the block is occupied by another Wolf-designed, two-and three-story brick building, ornamented by giant brick arches and schist trim. It contained the wash house on Jefferson and stables and wagon sheds along Glenwood. Despite the loss of metal cornices, these buildings survive intact, having found later uses as warehouses and storage buildings.

On the block between Master and Jefferson streets are buildings that remain from the Bergner and Engel brewery. Its buildings date from the 1870s and 1880s, with the largest and most impressive the two-story stable building which occupies the southeast corner of Jefferson and 31st street. Like the other brewery buildings of the district, it is of brick overlaid with piers and arched windows that denote the subdivisions of the facade. The raised corner towers and the central block contain wagon entrances while the wings are punctured by windows. Although missing its cornice, this building too is largely intact. Many of the other buildings of the Bergner and Engel Company stand to the west on the block between 31st, 32nd, Master, and Jefferson streets. Otto Wolf designed the handsome, three-story storage building on the west side of 31st street. The tall refrigerator building which stood at the northeast corner of 32nd and Master has been demolished, but the wash and storage sheds and the carpenter shop remain. Portions of the Baltz, Flach and Centennial breweries remain scattered through the district.

The largest alteration to the site occurred in 1922, when the Arnholt and Schaefer brewery and portions of the Rothaker brewery were demolished and replaced by a multi-story, reinforced concrete building occupying the entire north side of the block between 30th, 31st, Thompson, and Master. It incorporated a brick and concrete addition to the A&S brewery, constructed shortly before Prohibition. This massive industrial building with iron sash windows was erected for the American stores co., the parent company of Acme Markets.

This in turn led to the demolition of other secondary brewing structures across 31st street to provide parking for the Acme delivery trucks. The building's location took advantage of the access to transportation and the skilled workers who had lost their jobs in the brewing industry. It continues to the present as the region's historic link to the food and transportation industries.

A second component of the Brewery town district is the residential neighborhood which developed on the east side between 31st and 30th streets. On the south, along the north side of Girard Avenue, are a 'cluster of houses for the major brewers. With few exceptions, they closely resemble their breweries, with red brick facades and elaborate trim derived from the German architecture of the day. Theodore Engel initially lived in the house at the northwest corner of 30th and Girard (3001), which was part of a row of eight houses erected in 1875 when the' Girard Avenue Bridge across to Fairmount Park was constructed. The brownstone at 3019 Girard was the home of Albert Baltz. The double, suburban Queen Anne houses at 3021-3023 were owned by Louis Bauer and Daniel Schick, whom city directories list as brewers. George Arnholt and Henry Schaefer commissioned a pair of Romanesque mansions at 3029 and 3031 Girard in 1890 by William Decker. Brewers William Keller and George Rothaker owned 3039 and 3041 Girard, respectively, and used them as saloons until Prohibition outlawed that use.

Contrasting with the richly embellished houses of the owners are the tiny, two-story brick houses of the workers erected just to the north, in the small east-west streets between 30th and 31st. These were designed by J. F. Stuckert and erected as company housing by the Baltz brewery, presumably to help stabilize their work force by tying it to residences. Unlike speculative houses of the period (including those across the street by Angus Wade for Widener and Elkins), which were increasingly elaborately embellished, these are minimally detailed, with only their bracketed cornices betraying their late 1880s date (Figure 12). Baltz Street took its name from the brewer who continued to own the buildings until Prohibition, when it was no longer in his interest to control a work force. Similar, though slightly less oppressively severe housing was' constructed by the Bergner and Engel Brewery in three rows of porch fronted, tan brick houses on their property on the west side of 30th Street, south of Jefferson Street. These were erected between 1901 and 1908 and were occupied by employees of the brewing industry until after World War I.

Several institutions were closely bound into the community as well and are located on land initially acquired by the brewers. The men's social organization, the Gambrinus Sanger Krantz at the southwest corner of 30th and Master Streets, was designed in 1890 by Thomas Lonsdale and has been demolished. It was owned by Arnholt and Schaefer until 1922 when they sold it to the Acme Markets. Another social function which no longer survives is the Germanic beer garden. It stood at the southeast corner of 32nd and Thompson streets, and was part of the Bergner and Engel complex. In the European tradition, it included not only a bar, but also a wood frame dancing pavilion and a large grape arbor shelter for drinkers (Figure 1). The public school, at 31st and Oxford streets, constructed once a sufficient community existed to warrant a school, survives though altered (Figure 14). It is a massive stone building designed by Joseph Anschutz in 1899, and shows evidence of the national rage for Richardsonian Romanesque detailing in the rock-faced stone and the broad, round arched doors and second story windows. Similar details out of the German rundbogenstil of the mid-nineteenth century occur in the brewery buildings a block away, marking the continuity of scale and detail of this late nineteenth century industrial quarter.

Despite the impact of Prohibition, the Germanic brick architecture of one of Philadelphia's great industries remains much in evidence in dozens of buildings that range from the brewers' mansions to workers' houses and from the breweries and storage buildings to the stables and wash sheds. No other region of the city contains such a wealth of brewing related structures.

Significance

Brewery town contains the largest surviving cluster of buildings from Philadelphia's golden age of brewing in the years after the end of the civil War. Though brewing of English ales had begun along the banks of the Delaware, by the end of the civil War most of the new German lager beer industry had moved west across the city to the banks of the schuylkill, where beer could be stored, or lagered, in caves along the river banks. Access to the river banks originally caused the German brewers to move to the 32nd and Thompson streets neighborhood. Brewery town contains the remains of the ten breweries that, in the manner of nineteenth century industries, were concentrated within a few blocks of each other. Adjoining the breweries were the rowhouses and institutions that were built by the brewing industry - largely on property acquired by the brewers. Designed by architects who were themselves of, German origin, the buildings of Brewery town are distinctive in their adherence to German architectural styles that were used to denote the German based brewing industry. A high percentage of the buildings of the area retain that character despite changes in use to the region caused by Prohibition.

Brewing had long been one of the chief industries of Philadelphia, beginning along the Delaware with English ales and porters. As early as 1690 Philadelphia ales were being exported, and throughout the eighteenth century remained a mainstay of the economy. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the peculiar yeasts used in the fermentation of German beers made the Atlantic crossing, arriving first in Philadelphia in the brewery of john Wagner. His skills were taught to Charles Wolf, who formed the brewery of Engel and Wolf, later Bergner and Engel which established additional breweries in several other East coast cities, including Brooklyn and Trenton. Thus it was from this brewery that the German beer industry spread across America, transforming the taste of American beer, and giving to Wolf the title (f father of the American lager industry. By the 1880s beer was one of the top five most valuable products of the city (following cloth, carpets, steel, and construction, but ahead of such specialized industries as railroad engines), and the Bergner and Engel brewery was the third largest in the nation, behind only George Ehret (New York) and Best (Milwaukee).

The German brewers initially settled along the Delaware, in the vicinity of the English brewers and the early German community to the north of Market Street The special requirements of storing the beer in a cool cellar, or "lagering," caused the lager brewers to seek a site where they could excavate caves into the earth to maintain cool temperature during Philadelphia's hot summers 3 Such a zone existed along the Schuylkill, and by mid-century, the major German brewers had moved to the vicinity of 31st and Thompson Streets, just to the north of what is now Fairmount Park The 1910 Bromley Atlas of Philadelphia shows Bergner and Engel, Arnholt and Schaefer, Frederick Poth, George F Rothaker, George Keller Brewing Co., J. and P. Baltz Brewing Co., the Burg and Pfaender breweries, as well as those of the Weger Brothers, Charles Theis, and portions of the Bergdoll, American, and Lion brewing companies, all within four city blocks.[4]

Most of the English ale breweries are long gone from the city; though the Schmidt and Ortleib breweries survived on the east side of the city until the last decade, they never represented the initial concentration of buildings that characterized Brewery town. That it was this zone which the nineteenth century identified with the brewery industry is clear from the Hexamer Atlas of 1890 which titled a two page spread from Girard to Oxford between 30th and 34th Streets as "Brewery town" (Figure 1) Similarly, when the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide reported that the Baltz Brewery was erecting 34 houses from designs of J. F. Stuckert, "Brewery town" was an adequate designation of the location 6 That name was accurate because it describes the pattern of property ownership in the region. Beginning shortly after the civil War, the major German brewers purchased the entire tract of land north of Girard Avenue and west of 30th Street, extending as far north as the railroads. Fairmount Park provided a western border On the east side of 30th Street, all property was owned by Widener and Elkins; similarly, the south side of Girard was owned by a separate developer and contractor, William Bilyeu.

The zone north and west of 30th Street and Girard Avenue contains the largest and most diverse group of brewery buildings left in Philadelphia. Because breweries produce a liquid product from a mixture of grains, the buildings can be near each other without being adjacent because most of the materials can be piped or poured. Properly designed breweries used gravity to move raw materials on their course to finished products. Elevators lifted raw materials to the top, where they began the processing stages, flowing down story by story until the beer was removed for consumption. Most of the processes, however, were relatively discreet and subject to significant technological changes.

Thus breweries tended to be constructed of multiple, low cost buildings in close proximity to each other where the various processes could take place, and changes could be made to individual structures to keep up with new technology without the necessity of replacing the whole complex.

Depending on the organization of the brewery, at least four major functions were typical: malting or the preparation of grain, brewing in which yeasts were introduced to the malt, lagering or storing, and finally distribution, which required stables for horse-drawn wagons. Secondary structures infilled the spaces between the larger buildings, including cooper shops to make the beer barrels, wagon sheds and stables for the haulers, and boilers and power plants, initially to dry the malted barley. These last served later to power the refrigeration plants which first produced ice and later directly cooled the breweries. When bottled beer joined kegs as the means of distribution, bottling plants were added. Other industries that were related to brewing and often were included in brewery districts were the production of carbon dioxide (which brewers added to beer for artificial carbonation), ice companies, and feed grain companies (after the mash had been brewed, it could be used animal feed). Each of these business could be found in Brewery town as well.

Fortunately, despite many losses, the major buildings that survive are the work of the premier architects of this specialized industry. Two were particularly notable. Otto Wolf (1856-1916) was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the son of Charles Wolf, the early partner of Theodore Engel and later a manufacturer of brewers' supplies. After studying at Penn, the younger Wolf worked in the Chicago architectural office of Frederick Wolf, designing brewery structures in that city. After 1882, he opened his own office in Philadelphia and designed breweries along the entire east coast. Wolf designed most of the buildings for the Bergdoll Brewery at 29th and Parrish, several blocks to the south of Brewery town. For the Poth Brewery, he did the main refrigeration building, the stables, and the brewery on 31st and Jefferson as well as various offices, cooling towers, and other facilities. In 1890, Poth commissioned Wolf to design a row of double houses on the 3300 block of Powelton Avenue; on those buildings he showed the influence of Willis Hale's florid copies of Frank Furness's architecture. It was Wolf's involvement in other breweries, however, which gives such a unity to the region. At the Bergner and Engel brewery, Wolf designed the stables, brewhouses, and other ancillary structures. In the early twentieth century, when American breweries were experimenting with the English system of brewery owned bars, Wolf tried his hand at a bar for the Bergner and Engel empire.

Wolf's rival in the region was William Decker (ca.1850 - ca.1910), who was used for more elaborate public buildings such as the offices of the Poth brewery, the West End Electric company offices, and several of the large houses on Girard Avenue for the brewers. Decker made the shift to costly, high prestige buildings, designing mansions on Broad street and great office towers in the vicinity of City Hall. Both architects shared similar design preferences for strongly textured surfaces enlivened by the manipulation of brick in cornices, string courses, and framing arches, and accented by top-heavy towers. As might be expected in an industry with distinctive building forms, architecture quickly became a medium for advertising. Buildings of the Brewery town district are the dark red brick typical of Philadelphia of the mid-1870s, with most of the ornament generated by the manipulation of the brick - as pilasters, piers, and corbeled cornices. Brightly colored stone accents further enliven the surfaces - but within the general conventions of the German "Rundbogenstil." Characterized by round arched windows and doors set between framing piers or pilasters, and horizontally subdivided by corbeled belt courses and cornices, the style enjoyed a wide popularity among the German ethnic population in North Philadelphia during the same period. This architecture appeared on all of the buildings associated with the brewing industry, from brewhouses to the delivery wagon stables, and even carried over to some of the houses of the brewmasters on Girard Avenue as well.

Girard Avenue became a site for great mansions in the 1870s with the construction of the Girard Avenue Bridge, which provided access to Fairmount Park. city directories show that the 3000 block, however, had its own distinct population group, for with few exceptions, the houses were owned by operators of the brewing industry. These included Theodore Engel (Bergner and Engel) at 3001, Albert Baltz and Louis Bauer, (J. & P. Baltz) 3017-3019, George Arnholt (Arnholt and Schaefer) owned 3025-3035, William Karrar and George Rothaker (Rothaker) owned 3039 and 3041, respectively. While Karrar was not a brewer, he operated a harness works inside his home for the drayage side of the business.

In contrast with the flamboyant character of the breweries and the homes of the brewmasters was the understated, even plain housing that the brewmasters erected for their employees. Recalling company towns in other industries, workers' housing was set in small courts on leftover land on the east side of the brewery properties. That location saved the valued tracts along the rail lines and near the palisades of the river for commercial use. Clustered on Baltz street were the homes built for the Baltz brewery, on the east side of 31st Street. These were designed by J. F. Stuckert, another of the German trained architects of the post-civil War years. A generation later, Theodore Engel of the Bergner and Engel Brewery built nearly one hundred houses north of Master Street. These houses led to the construction of the new Sartain School in 1899.

Directly across the street from the Brewery town district were the more elaborate speculative houses owned by William Elkins, Peter Widener, and their builder William T. B. Roberts. Designed by Angus Wade, initially an architect for, and eventually a speculative builder himself, they conformed to that particular market of late nineteenth century. 9 By contrast, the brewery houses were not intended as a speculative venture. Instead, they were built to help regulate the work force; breweries were typically seasonal, with heavy labor from September to May, and little work and often low wages during the summer. This promoted high employee turnover, a difficulty which manufacturers often resolved with housing. A survey of residents' names in city directories indicates that with few if any exceptions, the residents west of 30th Street were employees of the brewing industry, ranging from laborers to coopers.[1]

Brewerytown is the most complete group of buildings from the important Philadelphia German lager beer industry, by the major architects of the brewing industry. Because it is associated with events that made a significant contribution to our history, and embodies the distinctive characteristics of German brewery styles, the Brewerytown Historic District meets the criteria of the National Register.

Notes
  1. William Downard, Dictionary of the History of the American Brewing and Distilling Industries, (Westwood, Connecticut), p.202.
  2. Downard, p.240.
  3. John Seidel and Anton Schwarz, History of the Brewing Industry and Distilling Industries, (Chicago, 1933), p.57.
  4. George and Walter Bromley; Atlas of the City of Philadelphia, (Philadelphia, 1910), Pl. 11 and 13.
  5. Ernest Hexamer, Manufacturing Atlas of the City of Philadelphia, 1884.
  6. The Baltz houses at Brewery town were reported in the Philadelphia Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide, II:47 (November 28, 1887).
  7. Otto Wolf's career is discussed in Sandra Tatman and Roger Moss, Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects, (Philadelphia, 1985), pp. 879-880. The social standing of those associated with breweries was such that Wolf was turned down for membership in the A.I.A., despite his 'having graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's architecture program. Wolf's career is indexed in the Clio files, and includes more than a dozen buildings in the area for the Bergner and Engel Brewing Co., the Poth Brewery, the Baltz brewery, the Mueller brewery, George Rothaker, and Arnholt and Schafer. In addition, Wolf designed a building for the Crystal Plate Ice Mfg. Co., and the building for the Penn Grain and Feed Co.
  8. Decker was born in Kentucky where he studied architecture; in the 1870s he moved to Philadelphia were he worked with his uncle, John Decker, a manufacturer of sheet metal roofing and cornices. That business on the 2700 block of Girard still stands, with a story high cornice emblazoned with the name of the business. Decker did stables for the Centennial Brewery Company (1886), the offices for the Poth Brewing Company, and the houses for Arnholt and Schaefer brewers. In addition Decker designed the West End Electric Co. See Tatman and Moss, pp. 201-203; their dates are inaccurate for Decker; he died ten years after falling from a scaffold at a building site.
  9. Roberts was the builder for many of the Widener and Elkins housing projects; 600 of the houses on the east side of 30th and Thompson, stretching north and east for several blocks, were designed in 1889 by Angus Wade for Widener and Elkins (Clio Index #11618).
  10. Surprisingly few residents of Brewery town were listed in city directories, suggesting that underreporting of laborers was common in the nineteenth century.

See Map

Street Names: 30th Street North, 31st Street North, 32nd Street North, Baltz Street, Corloes Street North, Girard Avenue West, Glenwood Avenue West, Jefferson Street West, Redner Street, Stiles Street West, Thompson Street West

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