Broadway Brewery of SF - letterhead c.1905
San Francisco Brewery (1853-1862)

and successor

Broadway Brewery (1862-1917)

In 1853, Jacob Frederick Specht established a brewery that nine years later would become the Broadway Brewery. Jacob was born in April of 1826, and he and his young wife emigrated from Karlshrue, Baden, Germany, about 1849. He was employed at the C. (Casper) Specht Brewery in Philadelphia, and it is assumed that Casper was an uncle. In mid-1853 he arrived in San Francisco and soon erected a small brewery and dwelling at 126 Broadway. In 1855, purchased a nearby tract of land on Broadway between Stockton & Dupont, where he built a larger brewery and dwelling. Then in 1859 he erected a much larger building on his lots, which was listed in the 1860 City Directory as the Specht Building, at 99 Broadway, but the building encompassed lots 91-99. This was to be the new home for his San Francisco Brewery.

SF Brauerei ad ca.1859

The above ad was from a Feb. 1855, German language periodical. The translation is: "San Francisco Brewery, from J. Specht and J. Hummel. 99 Broadway, between Dupont and Stockton." In 1861 a city ordinance called for renumbering the streets with Market St. as a starting point. Thus the Specht Building was now at 629-637.

Specht was the sole proprietor of the brewery, and resided on the premises. In 1861, he partnered with Joseph Albrecht in the running of the brewery, but the partnership was short lived. The following year Albrecht found a partner who had enough funds to allow them to lease the brewery and re-open the San Francisco Brewery, but now as the Broadway Brewery.

Specht then (1862) established the Mission Brewery & Bottlery at 525 Pacific St. - which is about two and a half blocks from his Specht Building. He only operated that brewery until 1864, when he then became a waterman for G. Keating & Company at 609 market St. These water works companies were the contractors who connected the piping from community water systems to homes and businesses.


Broadway Brewery (1862-1917)

Albrecht's new partner was Johanas Adami, a recent immigrant from Hessen, Germany. Other Adami family members also joined the brewery's work force, including Johanas' son, Jacob Adami (Adams). The new company is listed as Albrecht & Company's Broadway Brewery in this June 1862 newspaper ad.

Broadway Brewery ad June 1862

The above ad lists the brewery's products as Porter, ale, and lager. However, this wasn't lager in the traditional sense, but a lager peculiar to the San Francisco area called Steam Beer, made with a lager yeast but fermented at a higher temperature like an ale. This was actually the only kind of lager made in San Francisco until 1885, when Wieland's Philadelphia Brewery installed refrigeration and produced a true Lager.

On September 19, 1868, Johanas Adami died. The story passed down through the family is that he was stabbed and dumped in the bay, and the prime suspect was his business partner, but the newspapers of the day don't support that story.

The brewery's sole proprietor was now Joseph Albrecht.  Henry Adami, had been listed as a brewer with the Broadway Brewery since '64, and it's assumed he was Johanas' brother. Johanas' son, Jacob was employed as a teamster, driving Broadway Brewery beer wagons. But following the death of Johanas, all the Adami family members left, so there must have been some problem.

Apparently Albrecht was experiencing some financial difficulties in paying his taxes. The Feb. 14, 1871 edition of the San Francisco Bulletin reported:

"On the 25th of January the Broadway Brewery, No. 637 Broadway, was seized by the Internal Revenue collector, Oulton, for an alleged violation of the Revenue law. The libel of information states that on the 21st of January, and prior thereto, the goods, wares, and merchandise in the brewery were subject to the payment of taxes, and they were within the control of Joseph Albrecht for the purpose of being removed in fraud of the Internal Revenue law of the United States, and with the design to avoid payment of the said taxes so imposed by the provisions of the law..."

Albrecht must have come up with the $3,500 due, since he was operating the brewery later in '71. Perhaps the loss of the Adami family's expertise was not easily replaced and Albrecht was struggling.

From 1869 to 1874, Jacob Adams (no longer using Adami) was a teamster for the Mason Brewery. Henry Adams became a brewer for Kleinclaus, Fauss & Co's Willow Brewery in 1873.

In 1873, Jacob Adams re-gained control of the Broadway Brewery by partnering with the building's new owner, John Heinrich Specht, son of the brewery's founder, Jacob Specht, who died in April of that year. The June 11, 1873 edition of the German language newspaper, Abend Post, ran the first of many ads stating: ".. we took over the above brewery for our own and will still brew the best Lager-beer." The ad also mentioned that there was a Ball Room connected with the brewery.

By 1875, Jacob Adams had purchased Specht's interest in the brewery, becoming the sole proprietor, and he also purchased the building from Specht.

In 1892, Jacob took on a partner, Jacob Rohrer, who had been a commission driver with the Chicago Brewery. The company then operated as J. Adams & Co. and was producing about 600 barrels of steam beer per month. The following year they were producing twice that and were involved in a controversy. Apparently Rohrer took numerous customers with him when he left the Chicago Brewery, and the Broadway Brewery was also accused of price cutting, in violation of the Brewers Protective Assn. agreement. But they soon had bigger problems.

The Broadway Brewery burned in early 1893, but backing was secured by selling the Broadway lots and the brewery was rebuilt in a new location. The Brewery's new address was 3151-3173 19th St., on the corner of Treat Ave. & 19th St. The new brewery was on line by August of '93.

In 1894, Jacob Adam's son, William F., joined the family business as a bookkeeper. The following year the company is listed as the Broadway Brewery, Adams & Rohrer, proprietors. At this time Rohrer's son, William J., also joins the company - as a brewer, followed in a couple of years by his brother, Frederick, who became a clerk in the company.

On Sept. 8, 1897, Jacob Rohrer, dies at the age of 46. By this time William Rohrer has left the brewery floor for the office and has become a bookkeeper, with brother, Frederick as his assistant. The following newspaper story suggests that the brothers may not have been satisfied with the distribution of their father's estate. The San Francisco Call for Feb. 5, 1898, reported:

"William J. Rohrer, a bookkeeper for the Broadway Brewery, has been missing since last December and it is believed he is short in his accounts to the extent of several thousand dollars. It is supposed that the missing man is in the East, as rumors have been circulating to that effect.

The missing man is the son of the late Jacob Rohrer, of Adams & Rohrer, proprietors of the Broadway brewery, and he was employed in the office of that company for many years and was trusted by all members of the firm. following the death of Jacob Rohrer an adjustment of accounts was called for and following that time the missing man has not been seen." 

Frederick Rohrer seemed to be involved in some devious behavior as well. His mother had this notice published in the newspaper prior to the above story on William.

"Caution - I will not be responsible for monies loaned or paid to Fred J. Rohrer on account of Broadway Brewery or otherwise.  Mrs. Jacob Rohrer"

Whether the money was ever returned is not known, but William Rohrer left California for Oregon and never returned.

By 1899, the brewery had increased production to 20,000 barrels annually, had 15 employees, and had eight, horse drawn beer wagons delivering steam beer and porter to their customer's saloons.

The 1899 SF City Directory shows that another of Jacob Adam's sons has joined the firm. Gustave Adams is listed as a brewer, and his brother, William is still a bookkeeper. This arrangement remained unchanged until 1903, when Jacob's youngest son, George C. Adams, joins the company as an engineer.

Broadway Brewing Co. oval beer tray

On Dec. 30, 1905, the company was incorporated as the Broadway Brewing Company (see letterhead at top of page). Fortunately the Brewery escaped the devastation visited on many of San Francisco's breweries by the fire and earthquake of April 18, 1906. Not so lucky was their major competitor, Hibernia Brewery, the city's largest steam beer producer, which was unscathed by the earthquake but destroyed by the subsequent fire.

The Broadway Brewery was primarily a steam producer (see sign below). Steam Beer from this period was a highly effervescent beer made with lager yeast and fermented at a warm temperature. It was the sole, or primary, product of a dozen breweries in the City. It's popularity was that it was easier and less expensive to produce than lager, and best of all, it took only 10-12 days to go from mash tun to glass. Broadway Steam was only offered in kegs to be served on draught in saloons. Their 1862 ad (above) indicates that they also offered bottled ale and porter, but it must have been in small quantities since no labels or embossed bottles are know to collectors.

The December, 1903 edition of the American Brewers' Review offered this description of California steam beer: 

"Steam beer is usually a dark amber color and has a sharp taste, similar to Weiss beer. It has an effect similar to Weiss beer on the stomach owing to its great amount of carbonic acid it contains....Steam beer is a moderately clear, refreshing drink...."

Broadway Brewery Steam Beer sign, San Francisco 
 porcelain sign, ca.1901-'05, by Ing-Rich, Bever Falls, PA
(Ingram-Richardson was established in 1901)

To raise funds for improvements the company was incorporated on Dec. 30, 1905, with a capital of $250,000. The new corporation became the Broadway Brewing Co. Fortunately the new enhanced brewery escaped the devastation visited on many of San Francisco's breweries by the fire and earthquake of April 18, 1906.

Jacob died July 21, 1909, and his son, George C. Adams, became president of the brewery, with Gustave the company's vice president, and William, the sec./treas.

On January 17, 1917, the Broadway Brewing Co. became a part of the California Brewing Association. This was a co-operative venture to give the participants more power in buying and selling. The Association was to have no paid-in capital stock, and profits were to be distributed on the basis of business prior to the consolidation. The members expectations were that by buying and selling in bulk they could materially reduce expenses. The combine was formed from six companies:  the Broadway Brewing Co.; the Acme Brewing Co., at Sansome & Greenwich;  the National  Brewing Co., at Fulton & Webster;  the Claus Wreden Brewing Co., at Lombard & Taylor;  the Union Brewing & Malting Co., at 18th & Florida; and the Henry Weinhard Brewery [of Portland, Ore.] located at 1255 Harrison.

Only the Acme and National breweries continued as plants of the California Brewing Association. All of the other breweries eventually ceased production and closed, but their parent companies continued to operate until they were all were forced out of the beer business by national Prohibition.

Broadway Brewery steam beer ad ca.1917

The 1917 ad (above) shows that the Broadway plant continued to producing steam beer right to the end, and later that year they closed their doors for good.

With the merger, Jacob's son, William F. Adams, became one of the directors of the newly formed California Brewing Association. During Prohibition (1920-1933) William worked at the old National plant, (dba) the Cereal Products Refining Corporation, with
JP Rettenmayer, from Acme, and Karl Schuster, from Union Brewing & Malting. 

In the '30s & '40s William held the position of secretary for Acme Breweries in both SF and LA. He and his brother, Edward J. Adams, were major Acme shareholders.

The building that housed the Broadway is long gone, but coincidently the site is now home to the Southern Pacific Brewing Company at 620 Treat St.


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  • Thank you to Bernice Barnes, an Adams family member who supplied the Broadway Brewery letterhead and much of the family history.


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