- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 15, 2006

Stepping into the Brewmaster’s Castle is like stepping back to a time when guests gathered in grand salons; musicians performed on ornate, hand-carved balconies; and every inch of a great home’s decor was painted, plastered or inlaid by hand.

The Brewmaster’s Castle, also known as the Heurich House, looks much as it did when German immigrant Christian Heurich and his family lived in the 31-room mansion at 20th Street and New Hampshire Avenue Northwest.

Heurich came to the United States in 1866 with $200. He eventually made his fortune in beer, operating several breweries in Washington. His home took two years to build, from 1892 to 1894. When it was finished, it was state-of-the-art for the turn of the century, says museum docent Evelyn Parker-Murphy.

The house was constructed of fireproof concrete, brick and sandstone. It contained one of the first burglar alarms and call-button systems, Ms. Parker-Murphy points out on one of the daily public tours. It was unusual for a Victorian-era home to have complete indoor plumbing, circulating hot-water heat and even a central vacuum system.

Heurich was so afraid of fire that the 15 fireplaces in the house were never used. Still, each fireplace is a work of art, with a different image or design on each cast-bronze back wall.

Anyone who likes interior decorating and architecture will enjoy a visit to the Brewmaster’s Castle. The 14-foot ceilings, frescoes, tile work and carved wood are in wonderful shape, says recent visitor Allyson Adams of Laguna Hills, Calif. Ms. Adams tries to visit historical homes in various cities.

“The intactness is very impressive,” she says.

Ms. Parker-Murphy points out the details that make this house unique. The stairway has marble treads and onyx risers. The drawing room still has the original stenciling on the walls. The conservatory walls were made to look like tree bark, and that room’s fountain is a memorial to the Heurichs’ daughter, Anna Marguerite, who died in childhood.

The basement German breakfast room was made to look like a tavern in the old country, complete with murals and stenciled quotes written in German.

Heurich, who at one time was the largest employer of German immigrants in Washington, continued to run his brewery — located where the Kennedy Center is today — until his death at 102 in 1945. The Heurich family lived in the mansion until 1956, when Heurich’s widow deeded the house to the Historical Society of Washington.

The Historical Society operated out of the house until 2003. When it was about to sell the house to a restaurateur, the Heurich House Foundation was formed. The group borrowed $5.5 million for maintenance and repairs on the mansion. Public tours were offered, which brought in some revenue, but with the rise in interest rates, the foundation hit a desperate financial situation at the end of 2005, says Gary Heurich, a grandson of Christian Heurich and head of the Friends of the Castle, a nonprofit group recently formed to rescue the mansion from foreclosure.

In the past two months, that group has raised $105,000 in donations from 2,000 people, Mr. Heurich says. D.C. Council member Jack Evans helped the group get a $500,000 line item in the mayor’s budget for fiscal 2007.

The group still must raise $1.75 million by the end of this year to reduce interest payments so the castle can be self-sustaining, Mr. Heurich says.

“We’ve had over 1,700 people come through the castle in the last few months,” he says. “More attention has meant more tourism. We’re now offering 11 tours over five days a week. So we’ve made lemonade out of lemons.”

When you go

Location: The Brewmaster’s Castle is at 1307 New Hampshire Ave. NW in the District.

Directions: The house is at 20th Street and New Hampshire Avenue, just below Dupont Circle.

Hours: Tours are available Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.; Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. and 1 and 2:30 p.m.; Sundays at 1 and 2:30 p.m. An open house is held the first Friday of April, May and June from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Admission: Tours are $5 per person; open-house admission is $10.

Parking: Very limited street parking is available. The home is one block south of the Dupont Circle stop on Metro’s Red Line.

More information: 202/429-1894 or www.brewmasterscastle.com.

Notes: The Brewmaster’s Castle, also known as Heurich House, is America’s most intact late-Victorian home. The 31-room mansion was a design marvel when it was built in the late 19th century. Those with an interest in old homes, decor and history will appreciate a visit. Younger children may like it for its old-castle feel (complete with a suit of armor in the foyer).

• The home also features a garden that is free and open to the public April through October.

• Group tours featuring special interests (e.g., technology or decorative arts) are available by request.

• Parts of the home are available for special-event rentals and parties.

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