Abandoned brewery in Pittsburgh PA

Eberhardt and Ober Brewery, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
Date added: February 17, 2023 Categories: Pennsylvania Industrial Brewery
Vinial Street frontage, looking north (1986)

The Eberhardt & Ober Brewery complex, which began operation under that name in 1870 and whose earliest building dates to 1883, is the oldest of only three brewery complexes surviving in the City of Pittsburgh and the only one surviving on the North Side, once the City of Allegheny and a center for Pittsburgh's German population. It is the last extant facility representing the independent breweries that flourished prior to the consolidations that formed the Pittsburgh Brewing Company (Lawrenceville) in 1899 and Independent Brewing Company (South Side) in 1900.

The Eberhardt & Ober complex represents a large portion of the elements common to a turn-of-the-century brewery complex. The office, racking and wash house, stock house, cooper shop, bottling house, and a portion of the malt mill remain, though the ice house, malt house, boiler house, grain dryer and stables have been demolished. In addition, the siting of the complex into the hillside, allowing for the excavation of extensive underground cooling caves, was typical among pre-refrigeration-era breweries in Pittsburgh. As compared with the other two extant breweries, Pittsburgh Brewing in Lawrenceville and the Duquesne Brewery (Independent Brewing Company) on the South Side, the E&O complex is smaller but less dramatically altered in terms of additions and structural changes to extant buildings, perhaps owing to its earlier shutdown of operations.

Brewing has never been a major export business in Pittsburgh's economy. It was, however, a significant local business which grew along with the overall local economy and its industrial growth and heavy foreign immigration. Particularly strong growth of the industry after the 1840s could be attributed to faster trans-Atlantic transportation of the yeasts necessary for lager beer, German immigration (concentrating its population in "Deutschtown" in the city of Allegheny, c.1830-1880), the application of practical steam engines (c.1850-1870, according to census records), the introduction of artificial refrigeration (c.1880), and the discovery of pasteurization (c.1865).

Because of the number of very small "Mom & Pop" brewing operations in the 19th century, some of them quite short-lived, however, the industry's growth is difficult to quantify.

City Directories, U.S. Manufacturing Census Manuscript Records, and county histories present varying statistics, but it seems that from a start of one brewery in 1782 and four in 1815, approximately 20-30 breweries were in operation from the 1850s through the 1870s, reaching a peak of approximately 40 in the late 1880s and 1890s prior to the merger at the turn of the century.

The Eberhardt & Ober Brewery played no small role in this history. It began as three small breweries on Vinial Street, the first of which was established by Conrad Eberhardt in 1848. His son William took over the business in 1870 and took into partnership his brother-in-law John Peter Ober, whose father had built the second of the three original breweries. (Ober was a distinguished citizen of Allegheny City, active in both business and politics, and was responsible for the development of both Ober Park at East Ohio and Federal Streets and Riverview Park, a major green space further north in the city.) The next 20 years saw a significant expansion program which earned the extensive complex renown as a "first class plant" in early reports. In 1883, Eberhardt & Ober absorbed J. N. Straub & Company, the third of the original three breweries.

In terms of capital invested, employees, production, and sales, the E&O operation was of average size in comparison to the other breweries in the Pittsburgh and Allegheny vicinity, as listed in the U.S. Manufacturing Census Manuscript Records. Neither Eberhardt nor Ober was recorded in 1850, although John Straube (4th Ward, Allegheny City, absorbed by E&O in 1883) was listed as one of the smaller of the 10 breweries identified (5th in capital, 3rd-5th in employees, 7th in barrels produced, and 7th in sales). By 1860, 23 breweries were listed, among them Conrad Eberhard and J. W. Straub Eberhard ranked 5th in capital, 6th-8th in employees, 6th-8th in barrels produced, and 5th-8th in sales. In 1870, the operation was listed as one of 13 breweries in Allegheny City and 8 in Pittsburgh. It ranked 5th-6th in capital, 9th-10th in employees 8th in barrels produced, and 9th in sales. The 1880 records, unfortunately, are illegible, and those for 1890 were destroyed in a fire. Of all the breweries identified in these census records, the E&O is the only one whose facility still stands.

Eberhardt & Ober was ultimately absorbed in 1899 by the "beer trust," a merger of 12 firms into the Pittsburgh Brewing Company. Not all of the facilities continued in operation after the merger; a 1905 City Directory, in fact, lists only three independents in addition to the 14 under Pittsburgh Brewing Company and 15 under Independent Brewing Company. Nor did they all reopen in 1933 following Prohibition. The Eberhardt & Ober plant, however, remained open following the merger, as well as through Prohibition, during which time the plant stayed afloat by producing near-beer, ice cream, and cold storage. "Early and Often" was the slogan that repopularized the E&O brand after the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. Pittsburgh Brewing continued to operate the facility until 1952, when it closed on the heels of bitter labor contract disputes.

Following the annexation of Allegheny to Pittsburgh in 1907 as the North Side, the area experienced a decline until the 1950s and 1960s, when urban renewal and historic preservation began their independent battles to promote revitalization. Despite their efforts, however, the Brewery site has been underutilized for over 30 years, being used as warehousing space, and losing a portion of the building complex to demolition following a roof collapse in 1976.

In 1985, representatives of the three neighborhoods surrounding the Brewery suggested the portion of the property north of Vinial Street as a priority for study by the North Side Civic Development Council, the non-profit corporation committed to the revitalization of the North Side.

Building Description

This cluster of seven buildings and five structures, prominently sited on a corner at the base of the historic Troy Hill neighborhood across from the H. J. Heinz plant, represents approximately 50% of the brewery complex at its peak size from 1914 to 1952. All finished in red brick, it presents a cohesive collection of late 19th-century Italianate, Romanesque, Classical, and utilitarian designs dating from 1883 to 1914. The buildings are in good-to-poor condition, but have maintained generally good integrity. The remains of the complex contain six buildings, three silos, one cave system, and a series of retaining walls).

Although the E & O Brewery boasted an extensive complex as early as 1872, it was completely superseded by a 30-year program of demolition and new construction, from 1883 to 1914. The earliest map available showing the brewery buildings dates to 1872, when a complex of nine buildings stretched along the northern sides of Vinial Street and Troy Hill Road. On the 1882 map, the complex appears virtually unchanged, with the exception of a possible infill building along Troy Hill Road. By 1891, the plat map shows the Racking, Wash & Storage Building and the row of buildings along Troy Hill Road which have since been demolished; apparently none of the buildings shown on the 1882 plan survived the decade. The 1890s then saw the construction of the corner Office Building (after the demolition of another structure), the Stock House, and the small Office Building. From 1901 to 1910, the only change was the construction of the Bottling House. From 1910 to 1925, the Bottling Department was expanded and an addition was made to the Stock House. The Sanborn maps of 1927, updated with pasteover addenda every one to two years until 1951, suggest some additional changes to the complex, but the pasteover technique precludes a specific reconstruction of the changes on a yearly basis. It is evident, however, that a garage was added, as well as some minor infill between the Stock House and the small Office Building. The row along Troy Hill Road was demolished in 1976 and the Garage at an undetermined time between 1951 and 1976.

The Racking & Wash & Storage Building (rebuilt 1883), is the most massive of the four in the complex. Its structure combines masonry bearing walls with cast iron/steel columns, steel framing, and shallow brick arches that support concrete floors. It contains 37,200 square feet on four floors plus a basement. Its four-story, three-bay southwest facade is surmounted by a pyramidal-roofed central tower projecting above the corbeled cornice. The windows are wood double-hung sash (2/2 and 4/4); on the second story they are segmental-arched, while the third-story straight-topped and fourth-story segmental-arched openings are set in a single tall segmental blind arch; those in the upper story of the tower are paired with round arches. The first story features a stone hood molding and fanlight above the central doorway, as well as small wooden paneled doors below the stone window sills, presumably to accommodate beer kegs. Across the front extends a deteriorated loading dock and stair system (c.1950) sheltered by a subsequently added metal awning. The entire composition is framed by simple brick colossal corner pilasters. Many of the doors and windows have been damaged by fire and water; a few have been bricked in (since 1952?), although the openings survive. On the interior, broad expanses of open space are defined by exposed structural elements of iron, steel, brick, and concrete. Three stone vaults comprise the back of floor two. With the exception of the cast-iron columns on the fourth floor the interior has no ornamental finishes, nor does any of the historic equipment survive.

The four-story Cooper Shop of 1,950 square feet adjoins the Racking & Wash & Storage Building to the southeast. It is believed to have been constructed at approximately the same time (c.1883). Its segmental arched windows have lost their glazing.

The Stock House (c.1895) adjoins the Racking & Wash & Storage Building to the northwest and presents a fortress-like two-bay facade to Vinial Street. Its fourth story, an incompatible later addition, rises above a cornice and arched corbel table. The small-scale windows have heavy stone lintels and small sills; same are double-hung sash and some have been bricked in, but all the openings survive. On the first story, they pierce a banded brick wall and, rest on a heavy sill course above an ashlar base. On the northwest facade, industrial windows are a later addition, set in older openings with brick infill. An addition to the Stock House (c.1914) is not visible from the street. The 7,200 square-foot, three-story addition is of masonry bearing construction with steel columns and framing, and concrete floors. Each floor on the northwest facade has a single segmental-arched window. The large loading bay entrances on the southwest facade (one per floor) have been filled in with brick or aluminum siding. Like the Racking Building, the Stock House interior is open space with exposed structural members.

The Office Building (1897), is a three-story, pentagonal building presenting three bays to Vinial Street, four bays to Troy Hill Road, and a rounded entrance tower to the corner. The building, containing 9,100 square feet, is of masonry bearing construction with cast-iron columns, steel framing, and wood floors on shallow brick arches. The roof is flat. On the exterior, the modillion stone above the entrance reads "Eberhardt & Ober Brewing Company 1852 Rebuilt 1897." The windows are double-hung wood sash (1/1) with stone lintels and sills; in the tower, they are curved. No openings have been changed; where the windows have been broken, they are boarded over. The double doorway in the tower has wood-paneled and glazed doors. The entire building rests on an ashlar base. The interior of the building contains numerous typical turn-of-the-century elements: tile floors, tile, and wood wainscot, plaster crown moldings of egg and dart, cast-iron Corinthian columns, and an open wooden stairway with carved garlands ornamenting the stringers.

To the northwest of the Stock House is a small two-story office building (c.1900) with a flat roof and straight cornice, presenting four bays to Vinial Street. On the second story, the center bays contain paired arched windows resting on a continuous spring course; the outer bays have simple rondels above the springing course and tiny windows below. On the first floor, the outer bays contain tall, narrow door openings, while the center bays have paired straight-topped windows with heavy stone lintels and sills above an ashlar base. All openings have been boarded over. The interior, damaged by fire, still retains some of the simple wood moldings surrounding the doors and windows.

East of the Office Building, three tile grain silos rise to a height of 30 feet. The silos were originally housed in the Malt Mill Building, which has been demolished.

Across Vinial Street to the southwest stands the former Bottling House. The Bottling House is an irregularly shaped, two-story brick building of three sections, presenting nine bays to Vinial Street. The central three-bay section (c.1901-1910) is topped by a gable running perpendicular to Vinial Street and features two-story arches, now bricked in. Simple piers define the bays of all three sections, each of which has a corbelled cornice. On the end sections, three small square windows pierce the second story of each bay. On the westernmost, triangular section (c.1901-1910), the single rectangular window openings on the first floor of the Vinial Street side have been filled in. The easternmost section (c.1910-1925) had arched openings on the first-story; these have been bricked in, somewhat less sympathetically than were those on the other buildings. The interiors of all three sections have been modernized and original architectural detailing is not visible.

Stone, brick, and concrete block retaining walls tie the four buildings into their hillside context, which is terraced from the first-floor level at the east side of the Brewery to the fourth-floor level along the building's east edge. Manmade caves run deep into the hillside, with access through outside arched openings as well as through the buildings.

The buildings along Troy Hill Road, all dating to the 1880s, were demolished in 1976 following the collapse of their roofs.

Northeast of the corner Office Building stood a row of two-, three-, and four-story buildings which are shown on the attached map, perspective drawing, and photographs. They were of fireproof construction with brick veneer. The westernmost building, rebuilt in 1883, was the most architecturally interesting of the demolished brewery components. It was a cubic structure, three-bays square and of four-stories plus a basement, and was capped by a pyramidal roof with an octagonal cupola featuring a statue of Gambrinus, the German god of beer.

Behind it, the Malt Mill of approximately the same vintage housed the three tile silos which are still extant. It was connected to the Cooper Shop to its northwest, still extant. Extending eastward along Troy Hill Road were a series of two-story structures which extended for 13 uniform bays and contained ice machines. To the rear (north) of that stood a two-story building of undetermined use.

The easternmost building, built in 1879, was two stories plus a mansard and a basement and housed cold storage and a stock house.