Urban Decay As American As Beer And Apple Pie

 

Adam Scheidt Brewing Company’s old Philadelphia plant at 967-73 N. 9th Street. | Photo: Michael Bixler

The blocks between Poplar and Girard on the fuzzy borderline between East Poplar and Northern Liberties feel long and empty. It wasn’t always this way; you might notice signs of the theaters, churches, and meeting halls that once animated these blocks. The decaying Green Street station of the Reading Railroad, icon of the Reading Viaduct, collects graffiti. The blocks closest to the elevated tracks straddling 9th Street are the most decimated: a hulking former Strawbridge and Clothier warehouse dominates a patchwork of empty lots, derelict buildings, and half-used properties. Here, a stubborn old brewery, where not only beer but frozen pies were made, endures.

The Adam Scheidt Brewing Company was founded in Norristown around 1866 as a two-man operation called Moeschlin Bros. The business was bought out by John C. White and then acquired by Charles Scheidt in 1870. Scheidt brought his brother Adam over from Germany to help out with the burgeoning beer business. Adam took over in 1884 when Charles passed away. By 1890 the Adam Scheidt Brewing Company was incorporated and turning a profit. The brewer was producing 60,000 barrels a year, had a branch location in Baltimore, and was negotiating the takeovers of several other Norristown breweries.

Scheidt Brewing Company’s Markley Street bottling house in Norristown is now being used as a CubeSmart storage facility. | Photo: Michael Bixler

The Adam Scheidt Brewing Company would go on to become one of the largest brewers in the region. In order to meet demand and compete with Philadelphia’s largest breweries, Scheidt opened a Philadelphia plant in 1909 along the Reading Railroad line.

Architects traditionally respond to the brewery commissions with extra exuberance. The Scheidt brewery was designed to stand out among the slew of warehouses and distribution points that once ran up and down North 9th Street. The northwest corner of the building was laid out diagonally to accommodate freight cars coming off the tracks and was embellished with exterior details on the corner. A cupola on top provided natural light throughout the facility. Even the Darien Street façade of the building was given careful consideration. From here, Adam Scheidt was able to distribute his two most popular brands of the era, Lotus Export Beer and Twentieth Century Ale.

The new building also served as the Philadelphia storage warehouse and distribution point for the Scheidt Brewing Company until Prohibition forced the business to downsize and make “near beer” (beverages with little or no alcohol and typically less than 0.5% ABV) and soft drinks. Nonetheless, the company kept its Philadelphia plant in operation until 1926.

The backend of the old Scheidt brewery is still in decent shape. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Around 1932, the building’s cold storage capacity and ideal distribution and storage location made it attractive to another company based in a Philadelphia satellite town, Mrs. Smith’s Pie Company, of Pottstown. Amanda Smith started baking apple pies at the Pottstown YMCA. They were so popular she went into business, in 1919. The Philadelphia plant was one of four, including one in York, Easton, and Pottstown. In 1950, the company started producing frozen pies at all their plants, and in Philadelphia, Mrs. Smith’s baked and froze pumpkin pies. Around 1953, the successful company opened a much larger plant nearby, in Logan.

In the 1950s, as production moved to edges of the city and the suburbs, entrepreneurs and speculators acquired dozens of Philadelphia industrial plants. A hardware man, Harry Sail, bought up a collection of the old factory, warehouse, and garage buildings here and set up something of a hardware mini mall surrounding the perimeter of 8th and 9th Street and Girard Avenue. The old Scheidt plant became the headquarters of Hardware & Metal Supply Company, Sail’s sales point for architectural metalwork. A ghost sign for the business is still visible on the north party wall of the building.

A ghost sign for Hardware & Metal Supply Company is faintly visible from 9th Street. | Photo: Michael Bixler

In the 1960s, the metal distribution business focused on Reynolds architectural aluminum. The former brewery was renamed the Aluminum Supply Corporation. In 1981, Fred and Maria Wolfson of Wolfson’s Inc. bought the old Harry Sail group of properties for $13,700. It is unclear what this company used the building for, but it was likely related to the truck rental business that Wolfson’s Inc. still operates in some of the other nearby buildings.

In 2001, the old Scheidt plant was sold to its current owner. An iron works and fabrication shop operated there before becoming an auto repair shop around 2013.

The original Adam Schedit Brewing Company complex in Norristown, an eclectic agglomeration of styles from various eras, is still in use as the Stony Creek Office Center. The blocks surrounding the company’s Philadelphia plant may see new life, too, with encroaching residential development from Northern Liberties and East Poplar.

About the author

GroJLart is the anonymous foulmouthed blogger of Philaphilia, where he critiques Philadelphia architecture, history, and design. He resides in Washington Square West. GroJLart has contributed to Naked Philly, the Philadelphia City Paper's Naked City Blog, and Philadelphia Magazine's Property Blog.

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7 Comments


  1. Is there an address for the building? I’m having trouble figuring out exactly where your talking about.

  2. Got it – thanks!

  3. I love your stuff Gro! Do you happen to know anything about the empty building on the corner of Broad and Spruce? I think the address is 258 S Broad St.

    Cheers!

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