The ornate and arresting 11-story building at 1701 North Gay Street in East Baltimore was built in 1887 for German immigrant John Frederick Wiessner’s eponymous brewery. After Prohibition, the American Brewing Company used it to produce the now-defunct American Beer.
But in the 1970s, as Baltimore was going through a painful period of deindustrialization, the building was closed and abandoned. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Sites, but sat boarded up and decaying for decades.
Then, in 2005, Henry Posko Jr. stumbled upon the American Brewery building just as he was looking for a new space for his expanding nonprofit, Humanim. Humanim provides mental health and vocational services to the area’s disabled and disadvantaged. Restoring the building, Posko thought, would fit with the organization’s mission. "The building stood as a symbol of the disinvestment in the neighborhood,” he told Urbanite Magazine, “and if it were to come back, what were the possibilities?"
The next day he began what became a $24 million, four-year effort to restore the American Brewery’s exterior and transform the interior into a new working space for Humanim. Posko worked with the architecture firm Cho Benn Holback + Associates on the renovation. They repaired the damaged roof, repainted the building according to an old lithograph that showed its original colors, and retained elements of the old beer-making operation inside, including a 10,000-bushel grain silo and a massive steel tank on the first floor.
The restoration has not only returned a landmark to its former glory, as you can see in the photos in this slideshow by the photographer Paul Burk, it has raised Humanim’s profile considerably--and generated new interest in bringing other old Baltimore buildings back to life.