LOWER TOWNSHIP — The 16,000-square-foot lodge at the former Ponderlodge Golf Club was a formidable building but on Monday morning, it met its match against a 55-ton excavator with a custom-made “demolition bar.”
It took Site Contractors Inc. of Hammonton a week of welding to construct the giant steel bar that reaches 70 feet from the end of the excavator. It took less than two hours to knock most of the building down.
“It’s fun. It gets your aggression out without hurting anybody,” said Jimmy DiNatale, who operated the machine.
A group of local officials and the news media watched the building come down.
“Bye-bye, Beerworld,” Township Manager Mike Voll said as the roof came crashing down.
Several on hand knew the significance of what Voll said. The 18-hole golf course was constructed by the late William H. “Billy” Pflaumer, the owner of Christian Schmidt & Sons brewery in Philadelphia.
Locals knew it as Beerworld because it was built by a man who at one time was the ninth-largest beer brewer in the country. Pflaumer owned Schmidt’s, Ortlieb’s, Rheingold, Knickerbocker, Reading and Kohler beers and even made an unsuccessful bid in 1982 to acquire the Pabst Brewing Co.
Pflaumer didn’t play golf or drink beer but built the gated estate on 253-secluded acres for his family and friends. It featured swimming pools, houses, tennis courts, baseball fields, a private lake, bocce courts, the main lodge for entertaining large groups and other amenities.
Deputy Mayor Kevin Lare grew up next to the course and remembers playing it when it was still private and only nine holes. Lare remembers when Col. Oliver North gave a speech in the lodge.
“It was always Beerworld. It was never called Ponderlodge. We used to sneak on to play golf. It’s a fascinating property and a hidden jewel,” Lare said.
Monday marked the end of Beerworld but Pflaumer actually lost it years ago. He declared bankruptcy in 1997. The state Department of Environmental Protection bought the property from a bankruptcy court in 2005 for $8.45 million after locals rejected a plan by the K. Hovnanian Co. to build 409 age-restricted units.
The buildings are being demolished to make way for the state’s new Cox Hall Creek Wildlife Management Area. Site Contractors already demolished three homes on the property that relatives of Pflaumer lived in but still have to remove the beer baron’s personal mansion, including a swimming pool that still bears the Schmidt’s logo.
Pflaumer bought the property in 1976 and kept it private until 1991, when he added nine more holes and opened it up to the public, reportedly to help pay his bills. The course was immediately a hit with locals as one of the most affordable links in the region.
Pflaumer remained an enigmatic figure until his death in May in Philadelphia at the age of 76. Federal authorities linked him to organized crime, a charge he vehemently denied, but he was convicted in 1983 after an investigation by the FBI, IRS, and U.S. Organized Crime Task Force found a false billing scheme cheated the states of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland out of the fuel taxes for his beer delivery trucks.
Pflaumer, a wiry man who always wore large and dark sunglasses due to a congenital eye defect, was investigated for links to organized crime as far back as 1969. He was indicted four times in the ensuing years. He was acquitted of blackmailing tavern owners when they refused to testify against him but pleaded guilty in 1972 to putting Piels beer labels on barrels of the cheaper Ballantine beer. He was fined $5,000 and given three years probation in 1974 for allowing tavern owners to underreport their sales to avoid paying taxes.
A 1986 story in the Philadelphia Inquirer called Pflaumer the “shadowy lord of the Philadelphia beer business.” Adding to the mystique was Pflaumer’s refusal to talk to the media or testify in his own court cases.
But Pflaumer was also known for contributing to the needy and his exceptional treatment of ill and handicapped workers at his breweries. Locals remember him making Ponderlodge available for proms, awards banquets, charity golf tournaments and other events.
Pflaumer started with one used delivery truck and rose to become the largest beer distributor in Philadelphia before buying Schmidt’s in 1976.
Pflaumer built up the company, which dated to 1860, while buying up other brands. By 1983, he was the nation’s ninth largest brewer with 3.15 million barrels sold. He employed about 1,400 people. Pflaumer even made an unsuccessful $131 million bid to take over Pabst, which was four times larger at the time.
Legal problems, including time in prison, along with a national trend favoring larger brewers, slowly decimated the business. Pflaumer sold the Schmidt’s brand name in 1986 and declared bankruptcy in 1997.
Mayor Mike Beck said he was disappointed that a deal to allow The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey to use the lodge for a branch campus did not work out. Beck, however, said removing the buildings will make the site safer and it will serve as a key natural area for the urban areas of the township such as North Cape May, Town Bank and Villas.
“To get this out of here is a great day for the township. Our great grandchildren can come here and appreciate the wildlife,” Beck said.
The mayor also announced some concessions made by the DEP to leave more of the asphalt cart paths for residents to use and said a controversial plan to open a new entrance gate at Delview Avenue will be revisited by the DEP if it causes problems in local neighborhoods.
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