WASHINGTON (AP) -- Visitors to the Brewmaster's Castle near Dupont Circle will find some old German proverbs painted on the wall of the cellar breakfast room.
"He who has never been drunk is not a good man," is the translation for one.
"There is room in the smallest chamber for the largest hangover," is another.
Although the sayings might evoke the ambiance of a neighborhood bar, the Brewmaster's Castle is actually an opulent 31-room Victorian mansion completed in 1894 and filled with antiques, chandeliers and fine craftsmanship.
It was built for a German immigrant, Christian Heurich, an extremely successful brewer whose beer was served to presidents in an era when beer was as local as fresh-baked bread. The mansion, designed to resemble Bavarian castles in Germany, where Heurich's parents had been household workers in the early 1800s, is now open to the public as a museum.
But the castle's future is uncertain. Unless $250,000 is paid by March 15 on a mortgage for the building, it will be sold and converted into an office, restaurant or embassy.
"In a Victorian building that's being used for modern purposes, what you're going to see is no different than what you'd see in any square office building," said Jane Freundel Levey, a historian with Cultural Tourism D.C., which promotes more than 70 museums in the city.
Heurich's grandson, Gary, heads an organization called Friends of the Castle that is trying to raise funds to save the mansion as a museum. Some $70,000 had been donated toward the $250,000 by mid-February, including $9,000 raised at a Valentine's Day fund raiser. Heurich said the public's response has been "extraordinary."
He added that his grandfather "dominated the Washington area brewing scene. He ran the brewery from 1873 until he died at 102 in 1945."
Other cities, brands
In other cities, brands like Blatz, Iron City, Black Label, Stroh's and Coors flourished as steel, mining and automotive plants grew. But Washington was a government town. So Christian Heurich sold beer, ale and lagers under a "Senate" brand label. His beer and fermented apple cider were sold to the White House as late as 1918, and his Senate products were among the only local brands to bounce back after Prohibition was repealed in 1933.
"Somebody had to brew the beer for the federal workers, so this became known as the house that beer built," said Heurich.
Visitors who tour the mansion today can see its 15 onyx and marble fireplaces, all framed by hand-carved mantels, along with ceilings hand-painted in pastel colors by craftsmen who worked at the White House and the Capitol. There are antiques, a 1901 Steinway grand piano, and porcelain plumbing fixtures. The walls of some rooms are decorated with bronze fleur de lis designs, and an onyx and marble staircase leads to the second floor.
Chandeliers and lighting sconces use both natural gas and electricity. The circulating steam radiators, pneumatic and electric intercom systems and other then-modern amenities were inspired by world expositions Heurich attended while traveling.
"It is the story of an immigrant success," said James M. Vaughan, vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1969.
First fireproof home
Constructed of concrete and steel, with masonry interior walls, the mansion was the first fireproof home built in the nation's capital. Heurich feared fire after a series of blazes at his 20th Street breweries, and he also built a fireproof brewery in 1894 on the site of what is now the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Heurich's widow donated the building to the Historical Society of Washington, which moved into the house in 1956. It operated the museum until 2003 when it listed the home for sale as it prepared to move into the district's restored Carnegie Library as part of the City Museum.
A five-year, $5.5 million loan was arranged at the time to prevent the house from being sold and turned into a restaurant. But a $250,000 interest payment on that deal is now due.
If the debt is not paid and the building were sold to a foreign government for use as an embassy, none of the landmark protections would survive, clearing the way for unrestricted changes in the house.
Heurich hopes that doesn't happen.
"There are 80 million 'Joe Six-packs' out there who drink beer, the beverage of moderation," said Heurich, adding: "This is an extraordinary example of the way successful American brewers lived when beer was a hometown business."
BREWMASTER'S CASTLE: 1307 New Hampshire Ave., NW; www.heurichhouse.org or (202) 429-1894. Tours, $5, offered Wednesdays, 12:15 p.m. and 1:15 p.m., and Saturdays at 1:15 p.m., but call ahead as the schedule may be affected by the financial crisis. Donations are being sought to avoid a sale of the building.
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