Billy Pflaumer, once owned Schmidt's
BILLY PFLAUMER despised "light" beer. The onetime local beer baron once said that for people who drink the stuff, he would create a sixpack that contained five bottles of regular beer and one bottle of water so they could dilute their beer to their taste.
BILLY PFLAUMER despised "light" beer.
The onetime local beer baron once said that for people who drink the stuff, he would create a sixpack that contained five bottles of regular beer and one bottle of water so they could dilute their beer to their taste.
Billy was a quintessential Philadelphia character, an intriguing rogue and onetime jailbird who disgusted neighbors of his once-sprawling brewery in Northern Liberties by allowing it to disintegrate after it closed in 1987, becoming home to the homeless, both two- and four-legged - as well as the multilegged that creep and crawl - piles of abandoned tires and bottles and other debris.
He often said he had plans to develop the property of Christian Schmidt Brewing Co., which produced the popular Schmidt's beer and a city landmark since 1860, but nothing happened on his watch.
William H. Pflaumer, who rose to the pinnacle of the beer business as head of the brewery, then plunged into ignominy that included a federal-prison sentence, died Saturday of heart failure. He was 76 and was living in Fishtown, not far from the former brewery, but had previously lived in Drexel Hill.
Pflaumer was the last of the city's beer barons. Today, beer is produced in the city by small craft breweries. Gone are the big plants that employed hundreds and filled the city with rumbling trucks bearing the enticing barrels.
Today, the site of the Schmidt's brewery, at 2nd and Hancock streets, is occupied by the 28-acre Piazza at Schmidt's, a retail, restaurant and apartment complex.
At the height of Schmidt's glory in the early 1980s, it was ranked as the country's ninth-largest brewery. Pflaumer and his family also controlled a prosperous beer distributorship and a beer-trucking company.
It was estimated the enterprises were grossing $215 million a year. Billy was able to build a 227-acre estate in Cape May, called "Beer World," that included a 28-room mansion, guest houses, swimming pool, a lake and a golf course.
Then came the collapse. In 1983, he was sentenced to three years in federal prison for tax evasion. The Cape May mansion was sold and became the Ponderlodge in the Villas Wildlife Management Area. It was destroyed by a mysterious fire on Sept. 29, 2008.
Billy Pflaumer, who regarded the world from behind large dark glasses (attributed to an eye condition), was prone to some questionable practices while in business, according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
He wasn't overly careful when hiring people for his brewery. The LCB contended that his payroll included organized-crime figures. He once pasted forged Schlitz, Piels and Schaefer labels on kegs of Ballantine while trying to win the Ballantine distribution business from a rival company. That earned him a federal misdemeanor conviction.
Pflaumer was the principal owner of a beer-hauling firm called K.M.A. Leasing. The initials stood for "Kiss My A--." It included 118 tractors and 175 trailers.
For 20 years, Pflaumer lived in Drexel Hill, where his Christmas lights were a neighborhood attraction.
He was quoted in a 1989 Inquirer story as saying, "People don't care about your petty problems. They enjoy the lights. They want to see the lights."
At the time, he had been out of prison a couple of years. His wife died in 1988, a day before her 55th birthday.
Pflaumer helped found Operation Pops, which sends inner-city children to summer camps and supports Police Athletic League programs.
He is survived by three sons, Robert, Ronald and Fred; two daughters, Barbara Samuelian and Jeanette Tierney; 13 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by another son, William.
Services: 11 a.m. Saturday at the O'Leary Funeral Home, 640 E. Springfield Road, Springfield. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Marple.