The American Brewery: An East Baltimore Comeback
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | July 17, 2009
A former brewery that East Baltimore neighbors call "Darth Vader's castle" isn't so spooky anymore.
After a 16-month renovation, the American Brewery is open for business as the headquarters of Humanim, a social services nonprofit.
"The community is just thrilled," says Cindy Plavier Truitt, Humanim's chief development officer. "The building, being abandoned, was really symbolic of the disinvestment in the neighborhood. The influx of money and investment brought the building back to life and brought the community hope."
Built by John Weissner in 1887, the brewery building closed in 1973 and fell into the city's hands four years later. It steadily deteriorated—holes in the roof, broken windows—and in recent years caught the attention of location scouts for The Wire, who filmed several drug deal scenes in front of the abandoned structure. Then one day in 2005, Pruitt and Humanim CEO Henry Posko were driving around East Baltimore, searching for a place to relocate the company.
"We stumbled upon the American Brewery and instantly fell in love with the building. … Henry and I broke in and gave ourselves a guided tour."
Despite the daunting condition of the "castle," the nonprofit pressed ahead with restoration efforts. The National Trust Loan Fund contributed an early $375,000 loan to stabilize the building. The National Trust Community Investment Corporation was one financing source for the $22 million project, pitching in $5.4 million in historic and new market tax credit equity.
"It's a major economic development catalyst in an area that desperately needs it," says Al Shehadi, an acquisitions manager for the corporation.
In May Humanim moved into the brewery, now called the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Building, and since then has been "inundated" by requests for tours and rental space, Truitt says. "It's appearing to be more catalytic than we anticipated."
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