American Breweriana Journal September/October 2017

Preserving the Legacy of Brewery Architects: A.C. Wagner of Philadelphia

By Rich Wagner

My interest in brewery preservation started in 1980 when I began researching Pennsylvania’s brewing industry. In that time I’ve seen many derelict buildings transformed into success stories in preservation and I’ve seen a lot of old breweries meet the wrecking ball. Then, there are the ones that lay waiting, in some cases diamonds in the rough. In other cases, brewery buildings were adapted to other uses long ago and continue to house ongoing businesses. There is a list of known standing brewery buildings on my website, many with links to articles and videos.

Caption 001 This ad shows two of Wagner’s earliest projects: a new boiler house for Bergdoll and new bottling house for Prospect. (The Western Brewer, April, 1887)

This article is about a number of extant brewery buildings designed by A.C. Wagner, nineteenth and early twentieth century brewery architect and engineer of Philadelphia, which have recently been demolished, preserved, or hang in the balance.

Wagner’s architectural firm was in business from 1887-1901. I’ve documented 79 projects: about half in Philadelphia, and four in Brewerytown. In 1897 he designed the New England Brewing Co. plant in Hartford, CT. In 1901 while developing plans for the Breidt brewery in Elizabeth, NJ he withdrew from his architectural firm which became American Engineers and Architects Co. Wagner became a partner and general manager at New England Brewing Co. When Prohibition came, he managed it as the New England Fruit Co. His obituary states he was associated with the Yale Brewing Co. in New Haven after repeal. He died in 1935.

Standard Brewing Co. Rochester, NY.

Known as the Cataract Brewing Co. when it closed in 1940, the building was on property owned by the Genesee Brewing Co. when I photographed it in July 2011. The company hadn’t used the upper floors for years and was planning to raze it and replace it with a parking lot, hospitality center, and brewpub where their brewmasters could experiment, have fun, and promote general geműtlichkeit.

There was an unsuccessful local effort to save the building, for which I contributed articles from The Western Brewer describing the projects with illustrations. Despite the fact that the ground where the main building stood is now a parking lot, the bottling house building of the Cataract brewery was used for the brewpub which includes a museum and a model of the Cataract brewery.

It was through the website to “save the Cataract” that I found an obituary for A.C. Wagner, (and first learned his first name was Adam) as well as his biography. It also stated that his father’s name was Charles, his mother Catherine, so we can guess what his middle name is.

Caption 002 Caption: The Standard Brewing Co. of Rochester, NY became Cataract Brewing Co. in 1928. (The Western Brewer, October, 1890)

Caption 003 Caption: Cataract, ended up being part of the Genesee brewery property. They wanted to develop the site for parking and a brewpub. View of the remaining Cataract brewery building prior to demolition. (July, 2011)

Caption 004 Caption: A.C.Wagner designed a lager beer brewery for the American Brewing Co. of Rochester. (The Western Brewer, October 1890)

American Brewing Co., Providence, RI. Later the Providence Brewing Co.

Three years ago I was contacted by Ned Connors, a preservation consultant who was working on nominating the Providence Brewing Co. complex to the National Register of Historic Places. I sent him the articles I had from The Western Brewer just as I had done with Wagner’s Rochester project. Last fall, I was able to connect with him serendipitously, and was able to see Greg S. Theberge’s outstanding collection of Rhode Island breweriana on my way to see the property with Ned, along with the owner and the architect working to adapt the spaces to reuse. It was heartening to have Ned tell me that the nomination had been successful and that the information I provided was integral to its nomination. Currently the property is up for sale, or has been sold leaving its fate unknown.

Caption 005 In 1892 A.C. Wagner designed a brewery for the American Brewing Co., later Providence Brewing Co. in RI. (The Western Brewer, April 1892)

Caption 006 Providence brewery complex today. (September 2016)

Weisbrod & Hess Brewing Co. Philadelphia, PA.

The city’s Kensington neighborhood played a big part in Philadelphia’s image as “Workshop of the World.” Today urban blight is giving way to development, and real estate is hot. When I was contacted about saving two buildings from the Weisbrod & Hess brewery this summer, I was told “…it’s like playing Whack-a-Mole: they’ve purchased all the vacant land and are now looking for things to tear down.” I worked with Oscar Beisert, a local architectural historian who specializes in nominating buildings of all kinds in a variety of cities for historic status.

Caption 007 A.C. Wagner designed the new Weisbrod & Hess Brewing Co. plant. (The Western Brewer, December, 1890)

Caption 008 The wash house and racking room were in the building on the left, which also contained the loading platform. To the right is the boiler house, which was actually added in 1897 shown as a “future addition” in the 1890 drawing. The stock house shown on the left was not added until the Twentieth Century.

I spent a great deal of time unraveling the evolution of the plant complex with the help of Dr. Susan Appel. The German Society of Pennsylvania got involved in advocating for the properties and at present the nomination is in the process of being reviewed by the City. If the buildings are preserved, it would mean that the only parts of the plant complex that have not survived are the brew and stock houses. The rest of the complex across the street has already been beautifully renovated and houses the Philadelphia Brewing Co. The upper floor of the stable that was part of Wagner’s 1897 project serves as their tasting room.

Note: On Friday October 13, 2017 the Philadelphia Historical Commission added the boiler house and loading platform/wash house to the list of historically significant buildings.

Caption 009 There were horse heads on either side of the entrance. To the right, a modern bottling house added in the early twentieth century. (July 2004)

Caption 010 The Straubmueller brewery was practically across the street from Weisbrod & Hess. Wagner did complete breweries for both in 1890. In 1894 Straubmueller added a hall and had Wagner do a number of alterations and additions. There is a school on the site today. (U.S.B.A. Souvenir 1896)

Esslinger Brewing Co., Philadelphia, PA.

Shortly after consulting with Oscar about the above nomination form, he contacted me to say he was working on the Esslinger brewery, the last remaining complete brewery plant complex in the city. Again, I spent time putting together information and images to support the nomination.

Caption 011 Esslinger’s new stock house. (U.S.B.A. Souvenir 1896)

Caption 012 You can see the 1940s building program by Wm. F. Koelle & Co., which did most of the modern expansions for Philadelphia brewers, to the right of the stock house that Wagner did in 1896. (2009)

Emma C. Bergdoll, Residential Stable, Philadelphia, PA.

In the process of searching the internet for street scenes of addresses to A.C. Wagner’s breweries, I came across an address for a stable he did for Emma C. Bergdoll. (David S. Traub, 2017)

Caption 013 In 1897 Emma Bergdoll of Brewerytown’s Bergdoll brewery had Wagner design a stable behind a residence at 2839 Cambridge St. (David S. Traub, 2017)

Poth Brewing Co., Philadelphia, PA.

One of two remaining brewery sites left in Brewerytown is part of the Poth brewery complex. A.C. Wagner did a three-story stock house for them in 1897 that still stands. Oscar informs me this is next on his list so I am prepared for another round of research for the sake of preservation.

Caption 014 Part of what was left of Brewerytown’s Poth brewery complex was used by Red Bell Brewing Co. for several years around the turn of this century. A.C. Wagner’s three-story stock house is to the right. (2002)

Here is a link to a Flickr Album devoted to A.C. Wagner's projects.