Crumbling archways. Roman columns wrapped with cracked, peeling paint. A dramatic — but warped — wrought iron staircase. Colorful graffiti left by some gravity-defying urban explorers. That’s the scene inside the long deserted Hamm’s brewhouse, built in 1892 on St. Paul’s East Side.
The building is part of an immense campus that once housed the vast Hamm’s and later Stroh’s breweries. Much of that complex has been rehabilitated since Stroh’s vacated the premises in 1997. For the most part, the old brewery buildings on the north side of Minnehaha Avenue are bustling with workers and business. Flat Earth Brewing inhabits part of the more troubled cluster of buildings across the street, complete with the requisite taproom for modern microbreweries. A pair of hydroponic farms resides elsewhere in the area. A persistent wanderer even finds a small distillery.
But the complex’s oldest building remains vacant — and all the more weathered by the day.
The brewhouse has uneven floors and asbestos tanks on the upper level, but that hasn’t stopped developers from eyeing the property over the years. The current hopeful is Elyse Jensen, owner of a St. Paul wealth management company and treasurer of the nonprofit group Historic St. Paul. “We would like to develop the buildings into artist studios,” she explained. “You know, like the ‘A’ Mill, the Schmidt Lofts.”
Jensen has financing in place for an adjacent building, the 1951 grain drying building. She hopes to move her wealth management company there.
But she doesn’t want to burden her employees — let alone her clients — with the sight of the scruffy brewhouse, with its broken windows and crumbling exterior. So her office development is contingent upon finding investors for the brewhouse, she said. “Right now there’s about a $7 million gap."