Bromo Seltzer & Baltimore

Earlier this month, I visited an old friend in Baltimore ostensibly to lend him a hand with his cozy 1850s rowhouse. In between projects, he introduced me to a few (of the many) high points of Charm City.

Knowing our shared passion for architectural, industrial, and local history, my friend prominently included a tour of the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower on our packed itinerary.

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The entrance to the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower. (Photograph by author)

The Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower was commissioned by Isaac Emerson, a pharmacist, businessman, longtime Baltimore resident, and the founder of the Emerson Drug Company. Emerson concocted the patented cure-all Bromo Seltzer and christened the building in its honor. The Tower originally housed the Emerson Drug Company and other business subsidiaries owned by Emerson.

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Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Bromo Seltzer Tower opened in 1911 and stood as the tallest building in Baltimore until 1923. The building’s four-faced clock substituted the traditional numbers with the letters spelling B• R• O• M• O• S• E•L• T• Z• E• R . The clock was the largest gravity-driven clock in the world at the time and still dominates the Baltimore skyline.

By early this century, the Bromo Seltzer Tower was largely abandoned. Thankfully–maybe even miraculously–Baltimore possessed the foresight not to tear it down in the pursuit of progress. Local philanthropists and the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, a cultural non-profit, rescued the building and reopened it as an arts center with studios and galleries in 2008.

Today, the building houses a small museum dedicated to Emerson, his company, and his legendary medicine. The iconic clock was restored in 2017. Artists practice their craft in affordable studios. Visitors can purchase artwork displayed in the building’s stairwell. I could have wandered throughout the floors all afternoon.

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The innards of the clock room. (Photograph by author)

Baltimore is a struggling city, yet it possesses the ingredients–cultural institutions, universities, arts, location, and strong local pride–for a genuine rejuvenation. The Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower embodies the rich past of Baltimore and represents a path forward for the city. It’s a place that matters.

If you find yourself in Baltimore, take an hour to visit the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower. Admission is free, and the tour only costs eight dollars.

The building will haunt your imagination for days.

Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower, 21 S. Eutaw Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. Admission: FREE. Tour: $8.00

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