Accessibility links

Breaking News

Nearly $2 Million Needed to Save Historic Washington Building

Nestled on the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and O Street in Washington D.C.'s Dupont Circle sits a historic gem that is now in jeopardy, unless nearly two million dollars can be raised by December.

The Heurich House is known to locals as 'The Brewmaster's Castle.' It is one of America's most intact late-Victorian house museums. Its 31 rooms are filled with hand-carved wood, hand-painted ceiling canvases, luxuriously furnished rooms, and original turn-of-the-century Heurich family collections.

The castle was built from 1892 to 1894 by German immigrant, brewer and philanthropist Christian Heurich.

Grandson Gary Heurich is a tour guide. "By the early 20th century, Heurich was so successful he'd become the largest private landowner in D.C. as well as the largest employer of Germans."

It was built of reinforced steel and poured concrete, a novel construction technique at the time, and unheard of for residential construction.

"The second reason that this is important, historically, is that this was the first fireproof residence in the city of Washington,” says Gary. “Heurich's first two breweries were just down the street, and he had three fires, the third almost put him out of business, so he was determined to build a fireproof residence."

To ensure its safety, Christian Heurich never used any of his 15 fireplaces, and at the top of the tower, he placed a salamander, a creature that, in mythology, guards against fire .

The brewmaster was also one of Washington's most successful businessmen, founding Olde Heurich Brewing Company, whose beer can still be ordered in local restaurants today.

After he died at 102, the castle changed hands several times before it was purchased in 2003 by the Heurich House Foundation for $5.5 million, to save it from being converted to a private club.

Now mortgage interest rates are skyrocketing and the foundation is unable to meet payments, says Jane Levey, program director at Cultural Tourism D.C.

"Here we are today with a museum that is in danger of being lost to us and I think it deserves everyone's support,” says Ms. Levey. “I think we're all stewards of our history, even if it's not our personal history. You are not going to find anyplace else in Washington where you can open a door and step into history and really experience another period and another culture."

For Gary, who says he spent Christmas in the kitchen drinking his grandfather's beer, losing the house would be devastating.

"I just took it in, and tried to imagine what it would have been like to be here having a meal with my grandparents .... I love this room."

Community members are embracing the cause. Donations from $5 to an anonymous donation of $500 have poured in. And there have been several fundraisers, including a reception hosted by students from American University.

Gary has put his regular job on hold to dedicate himself to tours. The hope is that the last-minute publicity blitz will bring new visitors -- and with them, new donations.

In the past two months, The Heurich House Foundation received more than $100,000 in donations. The public interest spurred the mayor to set aside money for the castle in the city's budget, allowing it to escape the threat of a sale ... for now.