A city icon with an inner secret
Those familiar with downtown Baltimore can’t miss the Bromo-Seltzer Clock Tower, which has overlooked the Charm City skyline since 1911. But in the last decade, changes have been afoot inside the iconic landmark.
Now known as the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower, since 2007 the Tower has provided studio space for artists, as well as a venue for free exhibitions, receptions and live performances.
In April, its museum will unveil an expanded exhibition space, which will occupy the entire top floor. In addition, new art installations will debut in the Tower’s lobby and mezzanine.
A heady history
Once known as Emerson Tower (also known as the Emerson Bromo Seltzer Tower or Bromo Tower), the building rises 15 stories high, with an additional floor for the clock room.
It was built for Captain Isaac Emerson, organizer and commander of the Maryland Naval Reserves and inventor of the headache remedy Bromo-Seltzer. Surrounding the Tower were the offices and manufacturing plant for the Emerson Drug Company, which produced it.
Emerson asked well-known local architect Joseph Evans Sperry to design the Tower and the original factory building (which was demolished in 1969) after the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy, which Emerson had seen during a grand tour of Europe at the turn of the century.
Four glowing clock faces still grace each of the four sides of the Tower. The clock was installed by the renowned Seth Thomas Clock Company for a cost of $3,965, a sizable sum at that time.
Each face is made of translucent white glass and features the 12 letters of Bromo-Seltzer corresponding to 12 Roman numerals. (The word Bromo reads clockwise, with Seltzer counterclockwise.) The clock stopped running several years ago but, after a restoration was completed in 2017, it’s keeping time again.
Originally, a 51-foot, 20-ton blue Bromo-Seltzer bottle revolved on the building’s roof, illuminated with 314 lights and topped with a crown. Before the bottle was removed in 1936 for structural concerns, on a clear night it was said that the Tower could be seen from 20 miles away.
The distinctive cobalt blue glass bottles in which Bromo-Seltzer was sold were also part of the business empire. The manufacturer, Maryland Glass Corporation, was owned by Emerson, whose forward-thinking marketing and business strategies made him one of the most successful entrepreneurs of his time.
An inside look
On docent-led tours, held every Saturday, visitors can take the elevator to the 15th floor and then climb the ladder to the clock tower, where they can see the inner workings of the clock (and take some very cool photos of both the clock and of Baltimore!).
Before you ascend the Tower, though, your guide will offer a fascinating look at the life of Bromo-Seltzer’s founder, the Baltimore society he became a part of, and how a product he invented became a household name.
The Bromo-Seltzer History Museum opened in 2015 with a collection of Bromo-Seltzer bottles and Emerson Drug Company marketing memorabilia. The collection, currently on loan to the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, which oversees the building, is owned by Ernie Dimler, the museum’s collections curator.
Dimler unearthed his first Bromo-Seltzer bottle in Pasadena, Md., when he was 13 years old. “On weekends, I’d go to the dump with a shovel and dig up bottles and bring them home, said Dimler, now almost 60. “I love this stuff way too much,” he said.
In 2017, the museum added the Maryland Glass Room, which features a collection of other colorful glass bottles made by the same company.
On April 27, the museum will open a third room, taking over the entire 15th floor. The new “All Things Emerson” room will display artifacts from Emerson’s other local properties, such as the Emerson Hotel, Emersonian Apartments, and Brooklynwood Farm.
Meet the artists
After the docent’s presentation and visit to the clock room and museum, take time to visit the artists’ studios on each floor.
Watercolor painter Martha Dougherty has been working in her eighth-floor studio for more than a dozen years, but her connection with the building predates her art career.
Dougherty, 76, moved to Baltimore in her 30s. Her first job in the city was in the Bromo Tower, where she worked on the sixth floor in the mayor’s office of arts and culture.
“It was an exciting time. I had just moved to Baltimore and met all these artists with studios on the upper floors,” Dougherty said. Little did she know then that she would one day be one of those Tower artists. Her watercolors of Baltimore are on display in the lobby until late April.
The public is welcome to meet Dougherty and other Tower artists on Open Studio Days, held every Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.
Hungarian painter and photographer Marianna Mills, who has rented a studio in the Tower since 2014, said she gets inspiration from such visitors.
“I learn more about my work when people come in and ask questions,” Mills said. “I learn and grow from it, too.”
“I’m an introvert, so at first, I was worried. Letting people into my studio was kind of opening myself up. Now I look forward to every Saturday. I’m very touched when people say they can connect with my work.”
Mills’ photographs and paintings will be featured in “Relive the Moment,” a free exhibition opening in April.
Tower tours are given on Saturdays at 11:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Admission is $8.
Note: to access the clock tower, you have to climb a ship’s ladder and sign a liability waiver. The other floors of the building are served by two elevators.
Visit www.bromoseltzertower.com or call (443) 874-3596.