Changes Brewing on American Street


Ortlieb’s bottling house | Photo: Peter Woodall

After a long slumber, there’s been a flurry of activity recently at the old Ortlieb’s brewery complex in Northern Liberties. The Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association heard plans December 19th from veteran Philadelphia developer William Vessal to convert the former bottling house at 823 N. American Street into 31 residential rental units with 44 underground parking spaces.

Finding a permanent use for the building has been a long time coming considering the hot NoLibs housing market, which has continued to simmer through the economic downturn. The building has had quite a varied career since Schmidt’s purchased Ortlieb’s in 1981 and closed the plant. Initially, it was the site of Poor Henry’s Brewpub, which also hosted Golden Gloves boxing matches in its second floor hall. Later, it was used for baseball practices, hosted the Fringe Festival Cabaret, and currently houses the Jewish Center of Northern Liberties.

Larry Freedman, head of the NLNA’s zoning committee said the committee had concerns over the the location of the entrance of the parking ramp and a few other details, but is generally supportive of the project.

Vessal said he plans to keep the buildng’s distinctive stainless steel lettering. “It’s a beautiful facade and a pretty property,” he said. Vessal said he is considering applying for designation on the National Register of Historic Places, which would make the project eligible for a 20 percent investment tax credit for rehabbing the structure. “We’ll see if it’s worth it,” said Vessal. “The cost of replacing the windows might be prohibitive.”

Photo: Peter Woodall

Meanwhile, workers were busy boarding up the windows of the older part of the Ortlieb’s complex located across from the bottling plant, on the west side of American Street. The property is owned by Bart Blatstein’s Tower Investments, which submitted plans to rehab the buildings to the NLNA in 2007, but has not pursued that project. Tower hasn’t submitted any new plans for the property to the NLNA, said Freedman, which means they are probably just sealing the building. The buildings have been what’s called VOV–vacant, open and vandalized–for more than a decade. Calls and emails to Tower Investments were not returned.

Notes: Vessal has been busy on the 800 block of American Street over the past two years. He built more than a dozen condos adjacent to the bottling house at the former site of the Lawrence Ritter poultry plant, and in addition to the bottling house conversion, is planning to build nine single-family homes on the west side of American that will run 3,200 square feet and feature two car garages.




Peter Woodall is the co-editor of Hidden City Daily. He is a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, and a former newspaper reporter with the Biloxi Sun Herald and the Sacramento Bee. He worked as a producer for Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane and wrote a column about neighborhood bars for


  1. Do we really need more condo’s, apts, houses in Northern Liberties? Everywhere, I turn there is something else going up. How about someplace for the kids to place, not the dogs. How about and old fashion sit down ice cream store/restaurant? Think about it. Do you really think all these bldgs in 15, 20 years are all going to have people living in them. Anymore it seems like what can we do for the adults. How about what will fit right into the community for the families and the adults.

    • cranky aren’t we? there’s plenty of places for kids to play, how about Liberty Lands park or the other various playgrounds in the immediate area. An old fashioned ice cream store? go ahead and open one, or go to Franklin Fountain in Olde City, just a few blocks away.

      why wouldn’t people be living here in 15-20 years? are you assuming armageddon is really coming this year?

      people aren’t building just to build, they’re pretty sure they can sell/rent the properties – but feel free to buy some land and make a park.

    • You mean like rita’s or the zillons of restaurants in your neighborhood?

      You’re right, this large former factory space on a backstreet would be better suited as a 60,000 sqft malted shop with roof top PlayPlace. You should apply to work at the Planning Commission!

  2. Maybe Barbara wants a suburban style diner in that lot.

  3. I have an Ortliebs beer tray that has got to be 50+ years old I use everyday. Can’t wait to tell it the good news

  4. I’m not sure how an ice cream shop takes up a whole brewery, and tearing down a building with such distinctive 1948 lettering and character seems a real waste. I agree with the proposed use, housing, and think that as long as the owner believes he can rent or sell the units, let him try. It’s certainly better than VOV!


  1. Former bottling house at 823 N. American Street
  2. Development Roundup: Dilworth House demo, Ridge Flats aims for net-zero, Ortlieb Bottling House conversion, Chelten Plaza funding
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