Good Eye: The brewery that helped give Brewerytown its name

The former brewery, with its five-story central hall, three-story wings, and arched windows that draw the eye upward, has recently been sold to a developer.

The Brewerytown neighborhood gets its name from the dozen or so beer-makers that once gravitated to this western corner of North Philadelphia alongside the old Pennsylvania Railroad tracks. Today, only one of those great brewery complexes remains reasonably intact, the F.A. Poth Brewing Co. at 31st and Jefferson Streets.

The imposing redbrick building sits by itself on a slight rise, a position that gives it the air of a battered castle presiding over a long-lost kingdom. Founded by Frederick A. Poth, a German immigrant, the brewery was once the second-largest in the city, according to Richard Wagner, a beer historian.

Poth, who started his business in Northern Liberties, moved to Brewerytown in 1870 after another beer-maker on the site went out of business. Because of its proximity to the train lines, Brewerytown had its own train stop, called Engelside, making it easy for Poth to ship barrels of his golden liquid out of Philadelphia. Over time, Poth enlarged the complex, adding a brew house, cold storage, and a stable. The building at the top of the hill probably housed the refrigerated rooms where the beer was sent to ferment in large vats.

Even though the complex was probably constructed over several decades, the cold-storage building still has an appealing coherence. Wagner believes portions of the building were designed by noted brewery architect Otto C. Wolf. What exists today has a classic, symmetrical organization, with a five-story central hall flanked by three-story wings.

Though the facade lacks the elaborate detailing we see on breweries like Weisbrod & Hess in Kensington, the architect did take pains to emphasize the central portion's verticality, using arched windows on the upper floors to command the eye upward. A row of granite blocks once served a kind of frieze at the second floor, but most of the pieces are long gone. The most elaborate decoration is the company logo, which can be found embedded on the gently curved, 32nd Street corner.

Poth once branded itself as "The beer without a peer." But despite its popularity, the company, like so many Philadelphia beer-makers, was unable to survive Prohibition. After Poth shut down its fermenting vats in 1936, the building was used by a variety of manufacturers.

In 1996, Red Bell Brewing Co. tried to revive the beer-making in Brewerytown but lasted only until 2002. In April, Poth's was acquired by John Wei, the real estate investor who owns the historic Church of the Assumption on Spring Garden Street. With the neighborhood's old factories fast being converted to loft apartments, like Fairmount@Brewerytown and Eastern Lofts, let's hope we'll soon be seeing advertisements for the Poth Apartments.

The brewery is served by several bus lines, including the Route 48 and 61 from Center City. Or take the Broad Street subway to Girard and change for the Route 15 trolley. Poth's is three blocks north of Girard Avenue.

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