Towering Again: Heritage Area Capital Grants Foster Rehabilitation of Downtown Icon

November 11, 2017

Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore’s skyline has no shortage of splendid architecture, from Historic Jonestown’s Phoenix Shot Tower to the graceful Art Deco lines of the former Baltimore Trust Company skyscraper at 10 Light Street. On the westside of downtown at Eutaw and Lombard Streets stands another Baltimore icon: the Bromo-Seltzer Arts Tower. Over the past five years, three BNHA small capital grants have helped make critical repairs to the tower, ensuring its preservation for many generations to come.

Built in 1911, the 15-story, 300-foot tall tower was the tallest in Baltimore for two decades. The tower is a replica of Florence, Italy’s Palazzo Vecchio, which was built in the late 1200s. Baltimore’s tower was designed by Joseph Evans Sperry and built by Captain Isaac Emerson, inventor of Bromo-Seltzer. The tower was essentially a giant advertisement for Bromo-Seltzer, which was billed as a cure for exhaustion, headache, hangovers, and other common complaints. It was sold in small distinctive blue bottles, and became a household word through extensive newspaper advertisements. Originally the tower was topped with a giant, illuminated replica of a Bromo-Selter bottle (it was removed in 1936 due to structural concerns).

In 1967, the city acquired the tower and its adjacent manufacturing plant. The plant was razed and a fire station built in its footprint. In 2008, The Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts (BOPA) transformed the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower, completing a total interior renovation. Today the tower is filled with artist studios, galleries, and a micro museum dedicated to the Bromo-Seltzer Company and the Maryland Glass Company.

In 2012, BOPA received a small capital grant to help fund the repair of the tower’s four-faced clock. The clock is reputed to be the largest four-dial gravity clock in the world (larger than that of the clock tower of Britain’s Palace of Westminster – “Big Ben”). The clock repair lasted five years as deeper inspections found troubling structural concerns with both the masonry supporting the clock and the actual functioning of the clock’s mechanism. On April 2017, the hands of the clock once again began their slow turn.

In 2014, BOPA received a capital grant for roof repairs. The roofing membrane, installed sometime in the 1970s or 1980s, was extremely brittle and leaked. A full replacement of this older membrane was necessary as water infiltration was leading to damages to concrete and steel inside the building. In 2015, a third capital grant funded critical masonry repairs to the structural elements 200 feet above the ground. Exterior masonry was repointed and recaulked, mortar restored, and the terra cotta tiles repaired or replaced as necessary.

“The restoration of the Bromo Tower’s clock, roof, and masonry – thanks in-part to support from the heritage area – has created the forward momentum that the Bromo needed to become an active hub for heritage tourism,” said BOP Chief Executive Officer Bill Gilmore. "A revitalized Bromo Tower will continue to draw thousands into the heart of the city and create a positive impact in the Bromo Seltzer Arts and Entertainment District. We are excited for all of the opportunities in store for this historic building.”

Want to know more about the tower? The Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower is open every Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm. Entrance is free to view the 15 floors of artworks and galleries. Guided tours, which include a video and a trip to the clock’s mechanical room, are also available for a small fee. Visit the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower website for more information, including tour times.

The next grant cycle for the heritage area’s Small Capital Grants will open in fall 2017 (shortly after Labor Day). Visit our grants page for more information on this grant program as well as our non-capital Heritage Investment and Maryland Heritage Areas Authority grants.