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A neighborhood fixture, from rural to residential

El tracks above Eighth Avenue and West 110th Street, looking southwest, New York City, 1922: Lion Brewery, Radel's Music Shop, Live Leather Belt

The sign for the LION BREWERY is clearly visible in the left-hand distance in this 1922 photograph

A locus for both business and pleasure in Morningside Heights, the Lion Brewery began operations in 1850 and continued until its demolition in 1944.  During that time, especially in the late 19th-century, it rose to be a community focal point.  It originated with a farm—stretching from Tenth Avenue to Central Park, and 106th Street to 110th Street—belonging to Joseph Schmid (sometimes spelled “Schmidt”) on which he built a brewery in the 1820s, operating as Schmidt & Speyer.  Soon, a change of partners brought a change in name to Bernheimer & Schmidt, for Schmid’s new partner, former brewery worker Emanuel Bernheimer.[1]  The two renamed it the Lion Brewery in 1850; within thirty years it was generating profits estimated between $1,500,00 and $2,225,000.[2]  Real estate speculation doomed the partners, however, and by May 1879, the year after the newspapers’ estimate of their wealth, their combined net worth had fallen to $500,000.  They dissolved their partnership and each man transferred his share of the business to his better-educated son: Joseph Schmid transferred his holdings to his son August,[3] and Emanuel Bernheimer to his son Simon.[4]  August and Simon applied their education to the management of the business, and by 1888 the plant alone was valued at $1,5000,000.[5]

Administrative continuity soon became an issue.  There were untimely deaths: August Schmid died of pneumonia in June 1889, just ten years after taking over for his father.[6]  Henry Bernheimer, Simon’s brother, who had entered the family business, died in March 1899 of heart failure following a stroke.[7]   There was also discord. August’s widow, Josephine, assumed the role of partner to Simon Bernheimer, but it was not a happy match.  In 1900, Simon sued Josephine in an attempt to dissolve their partnership, claiming interference on her part, and unreasonable demands such as the firing of long-term employees and the adoption of new techniques that Simon did not feel the plant could handle.[8] By the end of 1901, a State Supreme Court judge determined that the brewery property, now worth $4,000,000, belonged not to the partnership (which was Simon’s contention) but to the individuals (this was reported on the Women’s Page), and placed the property in receivership.[9] In 1903, Josephine bought out Simon for $1,400,000, in order to run the business single-handedly; the Lion Brewery was now the second largest in the east and, along with about fifty saloons, worth $6,000,000.[10] Three years later, The New York Times reported that Josephine was planning to enlarge the plant in order to double its production of a half-million barrels.[11]  Her time in the seat of brewing power was not untroubled, however: in 1908, Josephine’s daughter Pauline sued her mother—in a suit “far from friendly in nature”—claiming she unknowingly signed away her own rights to her father’s estate.[12]  The suit resulted in an undisclosed settlement, but when Josephine, then considered one of the wealthiest women in the country, remarried in 1909 (to a minor Italian prince nearly half her age), Pauline did not attend.[13]  Pauline sued her mother again in 1917, alleging that the brewery was operating at a loss as a result of absentee management.[14]  At Pauline’s death, from a car accident in 1931, she was worth over $4,000,000, primarily in Lion Brewery stock, so her battles with Josephine could not have been entirely futile; Josephine—living with her husband in Italy—would inherit anything left in the unlikely event outlived her great-grandson, Frederick.[15]

 

Plate 103, Land book of the Borough of Manhattan

The brewery's real estate holdings covered two large west-side blocks.

In the Heart of the City [Lion Brewery advertisement]

This 1914 advertisement highlights how Morningside Heights had now become an integral part of Manhattan.

The history of the brewery, in many ways, reflected the development of the neighborhood.  When it was first built, Morningside Heights had vast tracts of farm land, and no mass transit connection to downtown.  The brewery owned land from W 107th Street to W 109th Street, and from Ninth (Columbus) Avenue to Tenth (Amsterdam) Avenue.  The plant and stables took up the downtown block, while the uptown block held a granary and other out-buildings, such as a dyeing plant operating under the name “Noil.”  To the east of the Lion Brewery sat Lion Brewery Park and its accompanying hotel, which became a locus for New York social and leisure activities, many of which were reported in the newspapers.  As early as the 1860s, the park was home to picnics, from the Church of the Annunciation of Manhattanville in 1865 (which, sadly, ended in murder) to the Martin Oakley Musketeers in 1869.[16] At one meeting in the hotel’s hall, uptown property owners convened to campaign for the elevated railroad to extend uptown on the west side.[17]  By 1879, however, the bucolic pleasures of Morningside Heights were already yielding to the Manhattan street grid, as the New York Sun observed, referring to “Lion Brewery Park, once a favorite resort for suburban festivities, but now closely hemmed in with graded streets, and many of its rural beauties destroyed.”[18]  By the end of the century, the park was doomed.  In 1898, Bernheimer and Schmid sold the park and soon it would be turned into residential lots, aided by the introduction of the IRT subway in 1904 (see “The Opening of the IRT Subway”).[19]

 

Samuel Gompers

AFL founder and president Samuel Gompers represented striking brewery workers

The brewery saw its share of drama.  There were numerous instances of labor unrest—not always limited to the Lion Brewery only.  In April 1888, seventy-nine breweries in the New York-New Jersey area locked out close to 4,000 workers, in an effort to suppress the Brewers Union; it was the lead story in the New York Sun.[20]  No less a figure than Samuel Gompers, founder and president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), represented the brewery workers, in what the newspapers referred to as “the brewery war.”[21] Two weeks into the walkout, nearly half of the breweries’ engineers joined the striking brewery workers but at the same time six—and then, two days later, eight—of the Lion Brewery’s drivers had crossed the picket lines to return to work.[22]

In addition, there was constant danger of fire.  One fire in August 1890 caused the deaths of twenty-nine beer-wagon horses, at a value of over $100,000.[23]  Another in April of 1895 avoided loss of life, but destroyed the upper floor of the stables.[24]  Yet another, in April 1898, led to the shutting down of the Columbus Avenue cable car.[25]  (These reports also shed a light on the brewery’s growth: close to 150 horses at risk in 1890, 200 horses in 1895, and 233 horses in 1898).  In 1907, another fire took nearly nine hours to extinguish, hampered by the danger of exploding ammonia pipes, and the treacherously deep vats.[26] The cause of these fires was generally attributed to spontaneous combustion, but by the late 1920s there were new threats.  In 1927, an over-zealous July 4th celebrator tossed a firecracker from the elevated train onto the brewery’s tar roof, which burst into the flames of a four-alarm fire.[27] Working the delivery wagons could also be risky: Jacob Bergman was killed by a beer barrel he was loading that slipped from his hands and crushed him.[28]

Prohibition did not slow the Lion Brewery’s progress; in fact, in 1920 they brought a suit in US District Court, maintaining that the Volstead Act deprives the corporation “of its liberty and property without due process of law.”[29] With an absentee owner, and a changing neighborhood, the brewery’s future was dim.  In 1941, the brewery merged with Greater New York Brewery, Inc.[30]

 
When Kings Are at Peace [Lion Brewery advertisement]

This 1915 advertisement foreshadows the coming World War

Lion Brewery beer can, 1936

This 1936 beer can displays the lion logo that was painted on the outer wall of the brewery

 


[1] “Lion Brewery’s Burning Hops Attract 10,000,” The New York Herald Tribune, July 5, 1927, p. 5

[2] “Demanding Cheaper Beer,” The New York Sun, July 27, 1878, p. 1

[3] “Recorded Real Estate Transfers,” The New-York Daily Tribune, December 24, 1878, p. 3

[4] “Financial Troubles of Brewers,” The New-York Daily Tribune, May 28, 1879, p. 8

[5] “Our Beer Barons of Old,” The New York Sun, May 5, 1888, p. 3

[6] “Two of Our Big Brewers Dead,” The Evening World, June 5, 1889, p. 3; “August Schmid,” The New York Times, June 5, 1889, p. 5

[7] “Obituary,” The New York Sun, March 2, 1899, p. 7

[8] “To Dissolve Bernheimer & Schmid,” The New-YorkDaily Tribune, June 22, 1900, p. 10

[9] “Lion Brewery Suit Decided,” The New-York Daily Tribune, November 2, 1901, p. 7

[10] “Lion Brewery Settlement,” The New York Times, July 1, 1903, p. 1

[11] “City Brevities,” The New York Times, March 25, 1906, p. 3

[12] “Sues Her Mother for an Accounting,” The New York Times, January 10, 1908, p. 5

[13] “Rich Woman a Princess,” The Baltimore Sun, May 23, 1909, p. 1; “Mrs Schmid Weds Prince Del Drago,” The New York Times, May 23, 1909, p. 1

[14] “Princess Drago Neglects Brewer, Daughter Charges,” March 12, 1917, p. 11

[15] “Mrs Coudert Inherits Bulk of Murray Estate,” The New York Herald Tribune, September 7, 1934, p. 17

[16] “Arrest of Two Alleged Murderers,” The New-York Daily Tribune, December 5, 1865, p. 5; Untitled, The New-York Daily Tribune, October 7, 1869, p. 5

[17] “Demanding Rapid Transit,” The New York Sun, June 17, 1877, p. 5

[18] “West Side Sunday Trains,” The New York Sun, July 14, 1879, unpaginated

[19] “Real Estate Private Sales,” The New York Sun, March 18, 1898, p. 8

[20] “Peacefully Locked Out,” The New York Sun, April 17, 1888, p. 1

[21] “The Boycott Investigation,” The New-York Daily Tribune, April 28, 1888, p. 5

[22] “The Lockout a Deadlock,” The Evening World, April 30, 1888, p. 1; “Engineers Go On Strike,” The Evening World, May 1, 1888, p. 1

[23] “Roasted 29 Fine Horses,” The Evening World, August 18, 1890, p. 4.

[24] “Two Hundred Horses Turned Out,” The New-York Daily Tribune, April 3 1895, p. 12

[25]  “Lion Brewery Stables Afire,” The New York Sun, April 8, 1898, p. 9

[26] “Tough Brewery Fire,” The New York Times, June 24, 1907, p. 3

[27] “Lion Brewery’s Burning Hops Attract 10,000,” New York Herald Tribune, July 5, 1927, p. 5

[28] “Killed by a Beer Barrel,” The New York Sun, May 20, 1897, p. 7

[29] “Brewery Bases Dry Test on State Rights,” The New-York Daily Tribune, December 5, 1920, p. 17

[30] “Lion-Greater N.Y. Brewery Merger,” Wall Street Journal, April 22, 1941, p. 2

A neighborhood fixture, from rural to residential