Changes a long time brewing

sun follow-up

Group celebrates renovations to exterior of historic American Brewery building

November 16, 2008|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

The American Brewery's gates swing open this afternoon for an event that has been 35 years in the making.

The nonprofit group that has spent millions on the East Baltimore landmark is celebrating the painstaking restoration of one of the city's most visible Victorian structures, where brewing tanks went dry in 1973 - and the pigeons moved in.

"There had been so many false starts, I don't think the community believed the brewery project would ever happen," said Henry Posko, chief executive officer of Humanim, the job training organization that will occupy the building in the spring. "Then the scaffolding went up."

City and state officials, led by Mayor Sheila Dixon, will be on hand at the Broadway East complex at 1701 Gay St. Today's 1:30 p.m. event celebrates completion of the exterior walls, roof and windows, which suffered badly from decades of neglect.

"It's a monumental and historic opportunity for our community," said the Rev. Donte L. Hickman Sr., pastor of nearby Southern Baptist Church. "In these times of high unemployment, and the disinvestment and dilapidation we see here, the project brings us hope."

The blocks around the brewery were the subject of a series of articles in The Sun in 2006 that chronicled life in the neighborhood that had lost more than half its population over 30 years and was among the most violent in the city.

After nearly a year of being encased in scaffolding, the building's 1887 brick facade has been cleaned and repointed. Its large towers - embellished silos used for the storage of malt and hops - were repaired, cleaned of lead paint and repainted. Dangerously rotted beams were replaced in one of the three towers. And, over the spring and summer, workers restored a slate roof and installed more than 100 windows.

"The slaters did a phenomenal job," said George Holback of Cho Benn Holback architects. "For a paint scheme, we used the colors of khaki and two tones of a green, a deep green and a midtone green."

He also said the brick repointing, which cleaned up mortar joints stained by coal soot, now gives the building a "sharper, fresher look."

Humanim, a 37-year-old Columbia-based nonprofit that helps clients find new or better jobs, will occupy the site. About 250 Humanim employees will move to the old brewery building in April. The organization serves 4,500 people a year, mostly in Baltimore and Baltimore County.

Posko, the group's director, said he and others have been going door-to-door in the neighborhood to hand out fliers and invite residents to today's event, which will include refreshments.

"It's all coming together now," he said. "I don't think anyone thought we could pull this off, but here we are.

"Baltimore is the kind of place where you have to make friends and acknowledge people who live in the community," he said. "We are here to help people get jobs, to help train them. Our long-term goal would be to have the people of Broadway East live and work in their own neighborhood."

While the building cost $21.2 million to renovate, Baltimore, which owned the structure, sold it for a token $2,500. The state of Maryland's share was nearly $7 million, including substantial historic tax credits. There was an anonymous $50,000 grant and gifts from groups including Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, the developers who oversaw construction.

"The foundation heads recognized the value of the project," said Cindy Plavier-Truitt, Humanim's chief development officer. "They saw they would be restoring a historic landmark of Baltimore City and would be bringing human services to a community in great need."

She said Humanim officials are planning community tours of the restored interior early next year.

"We'd love to show it off. It's as incredible as the outside," she said. "It's still under heavy rehab, and it would not be safe for visitors just yet."

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