On Thursday afternoon, I clicked on “Red Brick Town,” one of my favorite blogs. Lee is doing a great job, filling a long-needed niche for news junkies in Old Town and Parker Gray.
One of the features I enjoy is the occasional “Throwback Thursday” photo, a chance for history buffs to test their knowledge of the seaport.
For this Throwback Thursday, we turn back to manufacturing. Did you know that Alexandria, Virginia once had an airplane factory? It was called Berliner Aircraft Company. Any idea where this was located in Alexandria?
This one had me going. Through the years, Alexandria has certainly been home to a handful of industries - all the ones related to being a seaport, flour factories and such. But an aircraft company in Alexandria? Never heard of it.
I quickly pulled down my copy of “A Seaport Saga.” It is the bible for such things.
Just as I thought, nothing.
Next stop, google.
Berliner-Joyce Aircraft was an American aircraft manufacturer. It was founded on 4 February 1929 when Henry Berliner and his 1922 company, Berliner Aircraft Company of Alexandria, Virginia, joined with Maryland Aviation Commission leader Captain Temple Nach Joyce.
In January 1934 Joyce left the company to join Bellanca Aircraft, and soon after Berliner left for Engineering and Research Corporation. The company became the B/J division of North American Aviation, and was moved from Maryland to Inglewood, California.
Well, the time frame narrowed it down, but still, an aircraft company in Alexandria? Shuter’s Hill was used for testing monoplanes, but no hanger was ever built there. Jones Point was where those big ship building facilities rose up during the 1920s, but none of the 20 new interpretive markers there say anything about aircraft.
Next stop was The Washington Post via Proquest. My query produced a short article about the company moving from Alexandria to Baltimore, but nothing about where the factory was located.
This little mystery had me going.
I next went to the Library of Congress site. Many times they provide data sheets that accompany the historic photos, often times very helpful. For this photo, though, nada.
Back to google, which produced an article from The Alexandria Times, who publish a weekly “Out of the Attic” series.
During World War I, Alexandria experienced tremendous growth in defense-related industry. Virginia Shipbuilding opened a shipyard at Jones Point, and an airplane factory with a U.S. Navy contract opened in part of the former Portners Brewery.
Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. We know Robert Portner operated a brewery where Trader Joe’s is located on N. St. Asaph. In fact, across the street there’s an historical marker at 611 North St. Asaph Street.
This building, originally built as a bottling plant for the Robert Portner Brewing Company in 1912, was purchased along with the land surrounding it by the American National Red Cross in the spring of 1941. It served as the organization’s Eastern operations Headquarters until 1992.
Nothing about an aircraft company, although the time gap fits.I went back to the photograph. Oh, the irony. Most of the time we see photos of older buildings only from the outside, and often wish we could also have one of what’s inside. This time we needed an outside shot.
But look at those tall windows with arches. They’re fairly distinctive and now that I think about it, that could be the western side of the condos that face Trader’s Joe. I remember liking them when I first came across that marker.
I googled and viewed 615 N. St Asaph, the building with the marker.
Yes!!! That’s it. Those are the same windows. When they converted that building to condos they kept part of the windows.
It all adds up. Mystery, we believe, solved.
This is a great website dedicated to Robert Portner. If you tab down, there’s a photo of the marker and you can see the windows.
Also, check out Portner Brewhouse. Catherine and Margaret Portner, two of Robert Portner’s great-great granddaughters, are working on opening a new brewery that will pay honor to Robert Portner’s great legacy of brewing beer. Look for their operation, which will include a full-service restaurant, to open next year.