Grain Chutes to Meeting Space: Baltimore's American Brewery Building Restored
As seen from the back seat of George Holback’s family station wagon more than 50 years ago, the American Brewery building in East Baltimore was “a place the Addams family might have lived.”
The five-story, Victorian-era structure, built in 1887 for the J.F. Wiessner & Sons Brewing Co., “was a big, scary intimidating building,” Holback says. “But I knew it as the building I wanted to work on.”
Holback got his chance in early 2008, when Humanim, a nonprofit social services agency, chose his architectural firm, Cho Benn Holback & Associates, to design the rehabilitation of the building, which is located in one of Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods, north of the Inner Harbor.
A $375,000 loan from the National Trust Loan Fund was used to stabilize the brewery, and the National Trust Community Investment Corporation pitched in $5.4 million in historic and new markets tax credit equity. Holes in the mansard roof, broken windows, and an interior filled with pigeon droppings at least six inches deep were just some of the challenges that work crews had to address during the 16-month, $24 million adaptive use project.
Humanim moved into the old brewery in April 2009. Offices and meeting spaces now fill rooms that once contained conveyor belts and grain chutes, and a new lighting system reveals architectural and industrial details obscured for decades. In 2010, the Maryland Historical Trust recognized the success of the rehabilitation with its Project Excellence Award.
“You can see this building from all over the city, poking up over Clinton Park,” says Holback. “Now knitted into the old industrial relic is the story of a nonprofit trying to bring change to that area.”