With a toast, Mr. Boh joins the Baltimore skyline

Beer company logo caps building on Brewers Hill

Architecture

October 24, 2004|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

Baltimore has the Domino Sugars sign, the blue wave at the National Aquarium, the ornithologically correct bird atop the weather vane at Oriole Park.

Starting this fall, it also has Mr. Boh.

A giant sign bearing the one-eyed beer logo -introduced in the 1930s - was unveiled this week as the newest "eye-con" on Baltimore's skyline.

Outlined with red neon lights and timed to "wink" periodically at the city below, the sign is a graphic marker for a 27-acre commercial development called Brewers Hill that's taking shape using the buildings of two former breweries, the National Brewing Co. and Gunther Brewery.

Capping the tallest structure on Brewers Hill, an 11-story building at 3601 O'Donnell St., it's also a literal wink and a nod to the working-class neighborhoods of East Baltimore.

"Ain't the beer cold?" former Oriole and Colt announcer Chuck Thompson asked more than 400 spectators who gathered Thursday night to see the sign lit up for the first time - while drinking National Boh.

"I think it's fantastic," said Phil Beinke, a former beer vendor who now works as a computer technician for the state government. "It's the greatest thing ever put up in Baltimore. And it's historic, because there are no breweries left here."

"This brings back memories, big time," said John Devoe, a former brewer. "I love it. The only thing I'm not happy about is that the brewery is not functioning."

The Natty Boh sign was the idea of developer Bill Struever, of Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, and designer Alex Castro. They thought of it while having a beer.

Struever said he heard a story about a day when beer flowed through the streets of Baltimore because someone turned on the wrong tap during the beer-making process.

"We said, `We have to find some way to celebrate this fine tradition, because there's nothing more important than having a good beer,' " Struever recalled.

"We have the Domino sign. We have the crab over Phillips [Foods' headquarters in Locust Point]. Now we have the Natty Boh sign winking over East Baltimore."

The sign was designed by Castro Arts and Ashton Design, engineered by Skarda Engineering, and fabricated and installed by Triangle Sign Co. - all Baltimore-based firms.

Measuring 27 feet tall by 30 feet wide, it's visible from Interstate 95 and Boston Street. The image - with a large bushy mustache framing Mr. Boh's face - is the same as the one that appears on beer cans and bottle caps, as well as the 1960s-era commercials that touted the Chesapeake Bay region as "the Land of Pleasant Living." It recalls a feel-good era, before the urban riots of the late 1960s, when Jerry Hoffberger owned both the National Brewing Co. and the Baltimore Orioles, and Baltimore won its first World Series.

The concept is similar to what Struever Bros. did when it turned the old Procter & Gamble Co. property in South Baltimore to an office center called Tide Point. Procter & Gamble made soap products in various buildings and the developers kept all the old names in the new development - the Ivory building, Tide building, Joy building. In this case, they have a beer theme, with buildings named the Lager Building, Grain Building, Barrel Building and Malt Mill.

"Our company invests a great deal of time and effort in the design of our signage, because it typically represents the first visual impression of the development," Struever said.

Many of the people gathered for the logo lighting weren't thinking about the marketing ramifications of graphic design. They were talking about pre-Harborplace days when Baltimore was known as a shot-and-a-beer town - and proud of it.

People in the crowd wore Mr. Boh shirts, caps and buttons. At least one sported a Mr. Boh bow tie. They sang the old jingle - "National Beer, National Beer. You'll love the taste of National Beer, and while I'm singing I'm proud to say, it's brewed on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay."

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