UPDATE (October 2013):
Ortlieb’s brew house and stock house, two of the last major buildings that made up the historic Ortlieb’s Brewery complex, have been demolished after lying abandoned since 1981. Two other buildings, the former bottling plant and tavern, both remain standing and in productive use.
Multiple code violations led to the demolition of the Gretz Brewery’s distinctive corner tavern building in October 2013. One of 12 structures that made up the historic complex, the corner tavern was in an advanced state of disrepair. Demolition revealed the rest of the complex to be structurally sound, and neighbors continue to advocate for its adaptive reuse.
Significance: Philadelphia was once home to over a hundred breweries. Many of these were multi-building complexes constructed in the middle and late nineteenth century by immigrant brewmasters whose names– Schmidt, Ortlieb, Poth, Gretz– were ubiquitous in the city’s taverns and on billboards across its skyline. Often characterized by ornate masonry facades and a German Rundbogenstil(round-arched) architectural style, breweries added elements of refinement to the industrial landscape of neighborhoods across Philadelphia.
Threat: Decimated first by Prohibition and later by industry consolidation, the city’s once-thriving brewing industry has all but disappeared. Very few brewery complexes remain standing, and at least three that do survive face threats of demolition by neglect. In October 2012, developer Bart Blatstein announced plans to demolish the Ortlieb Brewery in Northern Liberties (Poplar and American Streets). In Kensington, the Gretz Brewery (Oxford Street and Germantown Avenue) has been vacant since brewing operations ceased in 1961. It currently faces numerous violations issued by the Department of Licenses and Inspections, and neighbors worry that its owner or the City will soon pursue demolition. Also long-vacant is the Poth Brewery in Brewerytown (31st and Jefferson Streets), the last brewery to survive in the neighborhood named for this once thriving industry.
Two other brewing complexes—the City Park Brewery in Fairmount and the Class & Nachod Brewery in North Philadelphia—have been successfully converted to residential lofts. Surviving portions of the Weisbrod & Hess Brewery are now home to the Philadelphia Brewing Company. The Ortlieb Bottling House, across the street from the rest of the Ortlieb’s complex, will soon house the offices of the architectural firm KieranTimberlake. Options for the adaptive reuse of these breweries are numerous, but not if they continue to suffer from neglect. Neighbors in Kensington recently nominated the Gretz Brewery to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places to protect it from unnecessary demolition, a strategy which could also be pursued for the Poth Brewery.