American Brewery: one more time

March 31, 1994

There is no finer example of a Victorian industrial structure in Baltimore City than the old American Building in the 1700 block of Gay Street. Standing on a hill, this temple of Bacchus rises over the surrounding rowhouse community like a magical storybook castle.

After years of vandalism and false starts, the badly decayed American Brewery complex finally seems destined for renovation.

Using a combination of city loans, state and federal grants as well as historic tax credits, the Council for Economic and Business Opportunity is in the process of putting together a $1.5 million package to turn the bottling wing into a flexible manufacturing center for light industrial business.

Meanwhile, CEBO, in partnership with the nearby Southern Baptist Church, hopes to develop the boarded up Wiessner mansion and office structures across the street into a 41-unit apartment complex for senior citizens. And Rite Aid is thinking of using vacant land at Federal Street and Patterson Park Avenue for a new drug store.

Where will this leave the 1880s brew house?

CEBO president Michael Gaines says the organization hopes to redevelop it into retail, commercial and community uses. That is unlikely to happen before early 1996, however, he said, while work on the other phases of the project are scheduled to start by early fall.

Like the surrounding Gay Street corridor, the old American Brewery complex never quite recovered from the riots of 1968. Brewing ceased five years later. For several years, the industrial wing was used by an electronics firm and the office space by the East Baltimore Community Corp. Both fell on hard times, however, and plans to redevelop the brewing house never materialized.

Now that the city is focusing its attention on efforts to revitalize the nearby Monument Street corridor, the time may be ripe to work on the American Brewery complex as well.

It will not be an easy project: anyone touring the neighborhood these days cannot help but be distressed by evidence of the vandalism and drug activity.

For years, the American Brewery complex has been on top of local preservationists' list of landmarks that should be saved. We hope that CEBO's effort finally can get the wonderful brewing house restored. It is marvelous relic from Baltimore's past -- when this city was known for its many local brands of beer.

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