What is the future of . . . Hansa Haus?

March 26, 1996|By FRED B. SHOKEN

MUCH HAS been said about the economic condition of Baltimore. Many feel that the city is not only declining but is past the point of no return, sliding down the slippery slope of deterioration and decay. Others feel that a second Renaissance is getting under way, which will increase tourism and provide economic stability to a city in need of reinvestment. If Baltimore is to have a rosy future, something must be done with the hundreds of vacant or under-utilized buildings scattered throughout the city.

This is the first in an occasional series of articles that will examine buildings and vacant lots in Baltimore and suggest how they can be redeveloped. Most of my suggestions, drawing on my experience as a preservationist with a background in city planning, will emphasize re-use and rehabilitation instead of demolition and new construction. Some of the re-use ideas will be realistic proposals, which I hope will attract serious consideration from developers. Others may be tongue-in-cheek.

The opinions will be mine alone. I disavow any responsibility toward any entrepreneur who takes heed of one of my ideas and invests in a losing venture. However, I will gladly accept tokens of gratitude from anyone benefiting from a suggestion which comes to a successful and profitable fruition.

The first building under consideration is Hansa Haus, a small two-story, Germanic-inspired building located in downtown Baltimore at the northeast corner of Charles and Redwood streets. Built in 1912 for the North German Lloyd Steamship Company, the building has housed over the years: the German consulate, a downtown branch of the Baltimore Museum of Art, a W. Bell and Company retail catalog outlet and most recently the Tres Bon Bakery Cafe.

At one time a developer considered demolishing it and replacing it with a high-rise office building that would have spanned Redwood Street (wouldn't that have been beautiful). Hansa Haus has been vacant for more than a year.

With its location adjacent to Charles Center and the Morris Mechanic Theatre, the building is ripe for re-use. Considering its Germanic style of architecture, past association with a German steamship company and the German Consulate, as well as its location on Redwood Street, originally called German Street before World War I, the building should be used in keeping with its ethnic heritage.

An inspiration

How about renovating it as a micro-brewery and beer hall?

Micro-breweries are a rage throughout the country, recalling an era when America had hundreds of breweries and more choices than Bud, Bud Lite and Bud-look-and-taste-alikes. Baltimore had dozens of small and large breweries before the era of prohibition. Until the mid-1960s or early 1970s, local breweries including National, Gunther, American, Arrow and Free State were still going strong. Micro-breweries are taking the place of our lost local breweries, carving out a specialized niche in the marketplace. Many are quite successful and a few operate in and around Baltimore.

Hansa Haus would be a natural for a micro-brewery. The beer could be brewed in the eastern portion of the building which is currently partitioned for office-use. The large copper tanks used in the brewing process would be visible along the storefront windows on Redwood Street enticing pedestrians to come in.

The Charles Street frontage now styled for the defunct bakery cafe, would be turned into a small beer hall remodeled with decorative brick interior walls, exposed wood-beam ceiling and wood paneling, creating an ''Owl Bar'' atmosphere (dare I say ''Cheers'' atmosphere?). The brew would carry the historic name of the building: Hansa Haus. Light refreshments and possibly German food could also be served here.

The Hansa Haus micro-brewery would capitalize on the downtown lunch trade, happy hour after work, plus light fare before and after theater for Mechanic patrons. If your drinking buddy has had a bit too much, send him home on the subway -- the station is just around the corner -- and go back to the party.

Who will be the first customer to hoist one in memory of H. L. Mencken? He worked across the street when Charles Street was known as Sun Square. And don't forget to wink at a homely girl on your way out.

Fred B. Shoken is a past president of Baltimore Heritage Inc.

Pub Date: 3/26/96

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