03 October 2011

Tour the Wiessner/American Brewery on Saturday, Oct. 8th

I'm pleased to announce that, as of a few minutes ago, we have final approval from Humanim, the owners of the former Wiessner/ American Brewery at 1700 North Gay Street, to allow tours of the historic building on Saturday, October 8th from 9 a.m..to 1 p.m.  Actual tours will be given at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon; last admission will be at 12:30 p.m.

The Wiessner Brewery, or American Brewery as it was later known as, is perhaps one of the most iconic jewels of Baltimore's brewing and architectural history and landscape, so much so that its image was heavily used by Baltimore Beer Week to promote this year's "theme" of the history of Baltimore's beer scene.

The building remains not only a monument to the development of brewing, one of Baltimore's major industries in years past, but also to the Germans who worked and lived in the area. John Frederick Wiessner, a German immigrant, leased the land upon which the current complex sits in 1863 in order to erect a brewery. Although there were already twenty-one breweries in Baltimore City and Baltimore County at the time, Wiessner's brewery rapidly expanded, employing many Germans that had been brewers prior to their emigration to America. In 1887, Wiessner constructed the present building to enlarge and modernize his brewery.

The height of the building and the internal organization of space were determined by the requirements of brewing, but its spectacular exterior reflects the tastes and decorative detail popular during the Victorian age in which it was built. Later renamed the American Brewery, it was one of the largest and finest breweries in the state. The Wiessners were forced to sell during Prohibition; it reopened in the 1930s under the American Brewery name, and the Allegheny Beverage Company was the last company to occupy the brewery.  In the mid-1930s, a modern brewery was created behind the old facade. "American Beer" was produced here until 1973, the same year the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. The building was deeded to the City of Baltimore in 1977.

The building, which became part of a large city-owned conglomerate of properties in the neighborhood, sat vacant for three decades--aside from occasional covert use by the Baltimore City Police Department as an observation post for drug investigations--until November 2007, when Humanim, a Columbia-based nonprofit that provides work force development for the disabled, purchased the property for $2,500 from the city.  The owners of the American Brewery complex in East Baltimore then secured $22.5 million in grants and financing to renovate and develop the Brewery building, totaling 30,000 square feet, in what was then one of the city’s most blighted neighborhoods. Streuver Bros., Eccles, & Rouse were the developers chosen to make the combined renovation-and-preservation project a reality.

Renovation of the building was completed in May 2009, and Humanim's offices opened shortly thereafter.  In spite of beer having nothing to do with the non-profit's mission, Humanim and the site's developers have been especially sensitive to the building's heritage.  Two display cases in the main lobby hold artifacts from the brewery's history; several significant details, including a grain elevator, have not only been preserved, but showcased in a sensitive manner; and even a brewing kettle has been "carved" into a conference table nook.  On display, courtesy of a Humanim staffer, will be other American Brewery and pre-Prohibition Baltimore beer-related items, including original stock certificates, ball taps, trays, cone top cans, and more.  More details and surprises await tour participants, and a handout highlighting the building's history will be provided free of charge (I'm sure donations would be welcomed).  Added value: potential spectacular views of the city from one of its highest accessible points!  Bring your camera!

Visitors will be welcomed at the building beginning at 9:00 a.m., and are asked to park on the building site and/or at overflow lot at the corner of N. Gay Street and Patterson Park Avenue (see the blue parking area on the map; click on the map for an enlargement).  A television in the reception area will show a slide show depicting the extensive renovation process undertaken in 2008-2009.  Tours of the building will commence at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., and noon.  No visitors will be permitted after 12:45 p.m., as another event is scheduled for the building after 1 p.m.

Also scheduled for that day are, of course, the Maryland Brewers Oktoberfest at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, the homebrew-and-beer-tap showcase at Mark Supik & Co. in nearby Highlandtown, and over two dozen other events that day.  However, this event has been scheduled in the morning, specifically to allow attendees of the Oktoberfest, the tap-and-homebrew tour, or other events to take in the building before heading to the beer!

Earlier posts on the topic here and here.  Humanim's own web page about the building, with links to far more information, is here.  More on the brewery's history here and here.

The Baltimore Beer Week Committee is grateful to Humanim, Inc, for graciously permitting this tour as part of Baltimore Beer Week.  See you there!

1 comment:

Dominic Cantalupo said...

Very nice write up Sandy. The building definitely ties in with our theme of history this year. It can also be said that at its peak, the Wiessner Brewery was producing 110,000 barrels a year. That amount is close to the total output of all present day Maryland breweries combined! Incredible when you consider the lack of today's promotion tools and vehicles to distribute and the far lower population.