For more than 17 years, The Church Brew Works
has been a Lawrenceville watering hole that attracts Pittsburghers from near and far. It’s obvious that the building was not always a brewery — in fact, that is a part of the Brew Works’ namesake and its charm and appeal.
St. John the Baptist Church on Liberty Avenue was built in 1902 by twin brothers Louis and Michael Beezer with John Comes as lead architect, according to Sean Casey, The Church Brew Works owner. Beezer, Beezer and Comes were employed to design the church, rectory, school and convent.
“Catholics would build [the] church first,” Casey said. “Pay [the] debt, and raise funds and build a school and convent next.”
He added that the rectory would be built last, St. John’s was constructed in 1923.
This team of architects were known as some of the period’s best craftsmen. They produced the church’s most loved details like the hand-painted cypress beams on the high vaulted ceiling, the intricate glass windows and the campanile.
St. John the Baptist survived a fire in 1915, both World Wars and the Depression. When the Diocese of Pittsburgh underwent a major reorganization in 1993, after years of declining congregations and financial constraints, the Lawrenceville church had to close its doors.
In 1996, The Church Brew Works revitalized the site after three years of dormancy. Casey said he was inspired to open a brewery in the space out of appreciation for its architecture and “experience having been in some legacy brewpubs in Germany that have been around for two hundred years.”
The legacy of St. John was considered during its transition into The Church Brew Works. Their website
details the “painstaking effort” that was taken to preserve the church’s glory.
Mini pews were constructed from the church’s original benches for guest seating, and the excess oak from shortening the pews was used to build the bar. The original Douglas Fir floors were uncovered and restored after being hidden under plywood for decades. And, the blue apse is perhaps The Church Brew Work’s most iconic detail. This classic altar is now the heart of the Brew Works as it houses its steel and copper tanks.
This post is part of a “Throwback Thursday” series highlighting Pittsburgh’s revitalized historic buildings.
Writer: Caroline Gerdes
Source: Sean Casey, Patty Goyke, The Church Brew Works