February 19, 2018
If you think about history in Washington, D.C. you’ll probably think about all the massive monuments and national museums. While there’s nothing wrong with that, D.C. has local history and culture just like any city, and few places capture that history like the Heurich House Museum. Kim Bender and Jennifer Ezell joined Nick from the unique, Germanic castle-house, that was built by a pre-prohibition beer dynasty. They talked about the history of the museum, as well as how they combine historical knowledge and the modern world of craft brewing in their programming. It’s not all about beer, but please remember to podcast responsibly. This is PreserveCast!
[Nick Redding] If you think about history in Washington, D.C., you’ll probably think about the massive monuments and national museums. While there’s nothing wrong with that, D.C. has local history and culture just like any city. And few places speak to that local flavor like The Brewer’s Castle, the Heurich House Museum. Kim Bender and Jennifer Ezell join me from the unique Germanic castle house, that was built by a pre-prohibition beer dynasty. We talked about the history of the museum, as well as how they combine historical knowledge and the modern world of local craft brewing in their programming. It’s not all about beer, but please podcast responsibly. This is PreserveCast.
From Preservation Maryland Studios, in the historic podcast district of Baltimore, this is PreserveCast.
[Nick Redding] This is Nick Redding. You’re listing to PreserveCast. We’re joined today by Kim Bender and Jennifer Ezell. Kim has served as the executive director of the Heurich House Museum, a Washington, D.C. institution that preserves the legacy of a historic brewer, Christian Heurich, and enriches the cultural life of Washington, D.C. During her tenure there, she’s reinvented the museums’s mission, program, and public outreach, and significantly raised both visitorship and revenue. In 2017, she was named The Washington Business Journal’s “40 Under 40.” She currently serves as treasurer as well of the Board of the Lois Roth Endowment. She received a J.D. in Environmental Law from the Tulane Law School and formerly operated a small law practice that worked with the non-profit community.
Jennifer graduated from the University of Missouri, Columbia in 2008, with a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and German. And in 2010, she moved to Washington, D.C. to complete her Master’s degree at the George Washington University in Anthropology, where she focused on German History and Culture. In 2013, she began volunteering at the Heurich House Museum, after learning about its history and eventually began working part-time, when she then took over as Director of Public Engagement in the beginning of 2017. Kim and Jennifer, it’s a pleasure to have you both here. We are excited to talk about all things Heurich House and house museums in Washington, D.C.
[Kim Bender] Well, thank you for having us, and it’s too bad we can’t walk around and give you a tour while we’re talking.
[NR] Yeah, well maybe that’ll be part two of this. Maybe we’ll come down and [laughter] have a beer with you. So, Kim why don’t you kick this off. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself. We love to know how people get involved in these unique situations. The bio we read of you, obviously, you have your law degree in environmental law. You seem like an unlikely executive director of a historic house museum. So how did that all come about? How’d you end up getting into this profession?
[Kim Bender] I think that is true, that it is unlikely. It was a very roundabout way that I ended up here. I had moved to Washington in 2009 to try to do something, I thought, in environmental law or policy. And environmental law also includes land use law and historic preservation, so it’s not that far off from some of the stuff I do here today. But, at the time, I never would have thought that that was my career path. And I was applying on the Hill and I was working at law firms. Then I was very unsatisfied in all of that, and at the same time, just sort of started writing this blog about local D.C. history. Really for myself to start because I wanted to learn. And then was also volunteering at multiple different historic preservation organizations because something was sort of pulling me in that direction. And I had walked in here to take a tour in 2010. My friends – they actually thought we’re going to get a beer on the tour – which wasn’t the case at the time and I think [laughter] that’s why they were attracted to it. And at the end of the tour, I said to the man who gave us the tour who, actually, at the time, was the site director here and lived on-site that I wanted to volunteer.
I started attempting to train as a docent, and it really evolved more into me helping behind the desk in his office. And little by little stuff would pop-up and he’d say, “Why don’t you talk to the board about that? I don’t really know how to handle that.” And the board would say like, “Kim, just fix that.” And it kept evolving and evolving. And finally, I wrote them a proposal about how I could do all kind of things here and they hired me. And that was 2011; I’ve been here ever since.
[NR] It’s pretty great story. And, obviously, we’ll pick up with that beer thought in a second when we get to more history about the site itself. But, Jennifer, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to this profession?
[Jennifer Ezell] Sure. So I’ve always been interested in history, particularly when I was younger. I started taking classes even in elementary school where history and actually Egyptology was of interest to me. When it came time to go to school, I determined that I really wanted to go to anthropology knowing that it would draw me to archaeology. And I thought I would be that person in the field digging in the dirt. And then I started taking classes and I found that I enjoyed cultural anthropology, which is more about modern societies and current living groups, more than I enjoyed digging up dirt. I finished a degree in anthropology at the University of Missouri. While I was there I had already taken German classes as a high school student and I decided to just continue with the German studies. I got the opportunity to study abroad in Germany and ended up getting another major in German, which was a nice little bonus to my college degree.
I worked for a while in Missouri while I was trying to save up money knowing I wanted to go to grad school and I wanted to be in the museum field. I had been volunteering or working in museums since high school. And in 2010, I started my Master’s program here in Washington, D.C. I had decided after finishing that program to stay in D.C. because of the plethora of museum opportunities that there were here that there aren’t really in other parts of the country. While I didn’t find a job directly out of my grad program with a museum, I was working in an HR department and decided to start volunteering in opportunities that I thought would be learning experiences for me and get me more experience in the field that I eventually wanted to move into.
So I had driven past the museum almost every day to go to school and I always wondered what the building was. And I feel like that’s something that happens to a lot of people that they don’t know they can come in. That they don’t know it’s a museum. And so I had found out that it was a museum and, of course, I was interested. The design of it from the outside is very indicative of German style, so I had an idea it was a German museum, but wasn’t entirely sure until I started doing some research.
And then I came on as a docent in 2013. So I was giving tours and doing some of our beer events that we had at that time and getting to experience the German culture and history in the museum. And then about a year after starting volunteering, I was brought on to help manage Saturday tour days on a part-time basis. And then just kept volunteering here, added some other volunteering opportunities in the D.C. area to my docket. Then also in 2017, was brought on full-time. So it really fit with what my research had been, which is German history, and really fit with what I wanted to do as far as being in a museum field that promoted education and promoted history that I was familiar with and enjoyed learning about myself to other people, so that’s what brought me here.
[NR] Yeah, it’s almost like custom fit for what it is you do. Kim, maybe you could take a step back and tell us what is the Heurich House Museum and who Christian Heurich was?
[KB] Sure. So the Heurich House is a large, we call it like a castle-like mansion, in the south of Dupont Circle on New Hampshire Avenue. And it has been sitting here on the corner since it started to be constructed in 1892. It was built from 1892 to 1894. It was built for Christian Heurich, who was a German-American brewer. He had grown up in a small town North of Bavaria in Germany – before it was actually Germany – and his parents were tavern keepers. So he was custom-made to become a brewer.
And then after he was orphaned, when he was about fourteen, he did a traveling apprenticeship around Europe. And then, eventually, after the Civil War [he] moved to America where his sister had already moved. Landed in Baltimore, brewed a bit there. Traveled out West, worked on farms, brewed a bit more. Then came back, and decided he was going to move to Washington, D.C. and try to start his own brewery.
He first took over and rented a failing brewery, which is about one block south of where his house was. The house hadn’t been built yet, but where we are located now is about one to two blocks south of where he landed in D.C. And Schell’s Brew Pub, he worked at for a year… before he purchased the brewery from Schell right before Schell died. Ended up marrying Schell’s widow, Amelia, and she helped him really turn that brew pub into a professional company. By 1890 it had been capitalized at $800,000. He came over here with $200 in his pocket. So if that kind of gives you an understanding of his growth here from 1872 to 1890.
[NR] Yeah, a pretty good return on investment there.
[KM] Pretty good. And then during that growth, Amelia died. He married Matilda, who was the sister of the treasurer of his brewery. She had been born in Germany, and together, they built this house. Unfortunately, she died right after the house was built, but her influence is felt throughout the house. And then his brewery facility, that was right near this house, had been growing. It started off as a brew pub and they kept building it up bit by bit. But at the time, you used open flame in order to do anything. So fire was a really common hazard, and he suffered a series of fires at that brew pub despite the fact that it was growing and becoming more and more technologically-advanced. And I think one fire just sort of made him realize that he couldn’t do this anymore. By 1895, he had decided to build a state-of-the-art fireproof brewery facility down in Foggy Bottom on the Potomac at the site of where the Kennedy Center is now.
[NR] And then how does it go from obviously this beautiful, magnificent Germanic mansion in Dupont Circle in the 1890s to what it is today? How does it become a house museum?
[KB] So the Heurichs lived here – the Heurichs were the only family that ever lived here. They lived here from the time it was built – 1894 – until Amelia Heurich died in 1956. Christian died in 1945, before she did. And none of the kids really wanted the house. They all had their own homes that had been built by their parents or provided by their parents; and this was just like this old Victorian, dark, spooky house. So they ended up leaving it – Amelia left it in her will to the historical society, at the time it was called the Columbia Historical Society.
Over time it turned into the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. and they were here from 1956 to 2003, at which time they were offered space at the Carnegie Library, which is downtown. This big beautiful Beaux-Art marble thing. They thought they were going to turn that into a sitting museum. And that’s a whole other story.
[KB] So, in 2003 – or even before 2003 – the Historical Society had put the house up for sale. The family decided they wanted to preserve it even further. It is like a time capsule inside. It is actually considered one of the most intact Victorians in Washington. And it is, I think, based on my research, the most protected interior in Washington, D.C. And so the family created us, The Heurich House Foundation. We’re a 501c3. And they helped fund the purchase of the house by the 501c3. And there were some starts and stops at the beginning there. But since 2012, I think, I can really confidently say that we are a real house museum operating in the district and trying to educate people about Heurich’s legacy, about D.C.’s history, about German-American entrepreneurship, about craft brewing and its importance in U.S. history. All kinds of things. So that’s where we are now.
[NR] I think that’s the perfect place for us to take a quick pause and then when we come back we can talk a little bit more about how you do that work, and some of the innovative things because being a house museum is no simple task today. There’s a lot of other diversions, a lot of other things that people can do with their time. But you have done a fantastic job of attracting people. So we will do that when we come back right here on PreserveCast.
And now it’s time for a Preservation Explanation
[Stephen Israel] Nick was making fun of me because he knew I wasn’t going to be able to resist taking the opportunity to use today’s segment to talk a little about beer and brewing history. But you know what? I don’t care. He can make all the fun he wants. There’s enough cool beer history to warrant at least this segment.
For instance, did you know that the oldest, continuously operating brewery in the world is in the Bavaria region of Germany? Okay, maybe not the biggest surprise. But let me ask you this: is it the Weihenstephan Brewery or the Weltenburg Brewery? As it turns out, either of those would be sort of correct. Both locations claim to be the oldest continually operating brewery in the world. The brewery located in Weihenstephan Abbey might have an edge in that there’s a document from the year 768 referring to a hop garden nearby paying a tithe to the monastery. But the abbey itself doesn’t actually claim to have been founded as a brewery until the year 1040 when it was licensed by the city of Freising.
Weltenburg Abbey, on the other hand, has likely existed as a monastery for a longer period according to tradition dating back to the year 617. But as brewery, it is understood widely to have only been formally in operation since the year 1050. I say only but people have basically been brewing beer in both of these places for 1,000 years. The oldest brewery in North America, for a comparison, is Molson Brewery in Montreal, Canada, founded in 1786. Of course, people have been fermenting and creating beer throughout human history. But I, at least, find it fascinating to consider how the tradition and knowledge that has been passed down these places has been practically uninterrupted for generations. Anyway, it’s Presidents’ Day, and that’s enough talking about beer for me. Get back to PreserveCast.
Do you have questions? We may have answers. If at any point during this podcast, you’ve thought of a question that you have for us or maybe one of our guests, we’d love to hear about it. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll try and answer it right here on the air on the next episode of PreserveCast.
[NR] This is Nick Redding. You’re listening to PreserveCast. We’re joined today by Kim Bender and Jennifer Ezell who are both with the Heurich House Museum in Washington, D.C. And before we took our break, we learned a little bit about how they got involved in the work associated with running a house museum. And then also we learned a little bit about Christian Heurich and who he was and how the house museum came to be. And before we took our break, we were talking about engaging people and how we get them involved in learning about this story. And I’m wondering, Jennifer, if maybe you can talk about how as the director of public engagement, how you are engaging people and maybe some of the more innovative things that you guys are working on to try and get people into the museum and to learn about the story.
[JE] I think, when we talk about engagement here, we’re very lucky in that the history of Christian Heurich is related to beer. And with D.C.’s booming beer industry it gives us an opportunity to kind of tap into that and entice people to learn a little bit about history by also getting to enjoy libations that are found around the city. And when Christian’s brewery closed in 1956, the first brewery to open after that that was a production brewery here in D.C. was D.C. Brau in 2011. So there was a large gap where that wasn’t the case in D.C. and we’re lucky now that we have that opportunity.
Part of what we like to do here is we like to have fun events that are enjoyable for people and enticing for them to come in and experience, and then during those events we like to covertly feed them history. And part of that is when you walk into this house, you can’t not be enticed by the history that’s going on in the museum because it is such a time capsule [until] the time period that the Heurichs lived here and the Heurich legacy, it does make people question what this building is and what it was. So we’ll have events that involve local brewers that come in and talk about beer history and the making of beer.
But with that, we’ll also talk about how Christian Heurich made his beer, what type of brewery he had. We talk about his legacy, what made him build this house in the first place, why he was interested in technology, why he decided that this should be a fireproof house because of the damage that had happened at his brewery. So we’re able to incorporate that history by using modern interests that people would be intrigued by, that would make them come into the door. So we’re lucky that that is our topic as far as the family history here. That we can incorporate them and not feel like we’re stagnant in the founding of Washington, D.C. because that’s not really what this house is about. It’s about the legacy of a person who actually lived in D.C. and was a citizen of the city and it’s nice that we have that chance to incorporate beer history into the house here, which isn’t always the case with house museums. So it really comes down to a matter of luck and a little ingenuity on how we’re presenting that history to people.`
[NR] And, Kim, I mean, from a visitation standpoint how has the museum been doing? Is it growing? Are you getting people? I mean there’s a lot of house museums around the country that really struggle. You’re a newer house museum. How’s this public engagement process working?
[KB] We’re very lucky. We do continue to grow and I think it’s been one step in front of the other. So we keep building off of the things we’ve created in the past. I really do not think that we could be where we are or go any further if it wasn’t for the partnerships that we create in order to do our programs and sort of our partnerships in the city. We, again, as Jennifer said we’re super lucky that, to some extent, that beer is part of our topic. It’s kind of sexy and so it can draw people in even if they’re not 100 percent connected [going] to a house museum in another context.
We’re also really lucky that it’s a local story. And D.C. is Washington, D.C. and I like to think of it as almost two separate halves. There’s Washington, the Federal Government… when people are complaining about Washington, they’re complaining about something that seems very distant from were we sit here in Dupont Circle in this house. And we have D.C., which is filled with local businesses, people who’ve lived here their whole lives. People who’ve decided to settle here and make it their homes – artisans, craftspeople, artists. There’s a whole community in D.C. that I think isn’t talked about when we talk about the city as a nation, and that’s our community and our partners. And that community is growing and growing and becoming more mature and interesting. And I think that helps keep us fresh too.
[NR] So who do you think is your primary audience? A lot of our listeners are from around the country and I think when a lot of people visit D.C. they go to that federal side that you’re talking about. They go to the Smithsonians and they go to these sort of institutional experiences. But is your audience people who are visiting the city to see that? Or do you feel you’re attracting more sort of the D.C., perhaps natives, but also D.C. transplants who are living in more of the city side?
[KB] I think we attract both tourists and locals. And I think – I’m trying to think more and more of our audience in terms of common interest rather than demographic. So we have the people who come to visit us are people who are really interested in craft beer, obviously. We have people who are really interested in local art and craftsmanship. We do a lot of programming with local makers here because craftspeople built this house. Christian was an entrepreneur. There are a lot of small local entrepreneurs who are creating things. And then we have the people who are interested in architecture, history, design who would think of this as just a cool thing to come to on a regular day for themselves.
So we’re pulling in – and then when we expand on our programming a little more so that these other smaller things that are interests of the Heurichs. Like, we’re having an awesome concert here next week of classical music, a Bach concert. The Heurichs were really, really into classical music, they were symphony ticket holders. So that brings in other people with other interests, expose them also to what we’re doing. But I think it’s more interest-based and then, kind of, then goes across demographics and across tourists versus local.
[NR] And, Jennifer, for house museums or historic sites across the country that perhaps have a connection to something like beer where they know that they can get people interested and they can get them in there but they want to balance this idea of sort of paying homage and respect to the history while also having fun. Is there any sort of advice or anything that you’ve learned through the process on how to make sure that that balance is there?
[JE] The hardest part about finding that balance is you have to make sure that what you’re doing isn’t just with the goal of money making. That you are not just trying to get people in to sell them on products. That you’re trying to get them in to give them that history to make sure that it aligns with your mission as an institution. So if your mission relates to craft beer, that’s great, but then what does that tell about what the history of your site is?
So we did a Halloween event just last year that incorporated the history of D.C.’s prohibition. Prohibition came to D.C. in 1917 for the first time. It was one of the earlier sites to have prohibition. And at the time, they hosted funerals for John Barleycorn, the Spirit of Alcoholism [laughter]. So to celebrate the 100th anniversary of prohibition being enacted in our city, we decided to host a funeral for the Spirit of Temperance. And we had an event here that incorporated [laughter] local beer producers, cider producers, alcohol producers. And then, we actually held a mock funeral here. We had eulogies that incorporated history, both of Christian Heurich’s history but also of the production of alcohol and beer within the District. And then, we carried a coffin of a beer out into our backyard and we buried it. And so something like that is interesting and different and it brings people in the door, but it’s also essentially force-feeding them the history that they may not get unless we made sure that it aligned with our mission. So something like that is both interesting, will draw people in, but it also tells part of the history that we’re wanting to make sure that people understand and take away from those experiences.
[NR] Yeah, I think that is the perfect way of balancing that. And that’s a first for PreserveCast, the first mock beer funeral.
[KB] It was amazing, by the way [laughter]. It was all Jennifer’s doing. People were reciting prayers in unison, eighty people at a time, prayers for beer. It was amazing.
[NR] Well, if people want to learn more about the Heurich House and about some of the engaging and innovative programming that you’re doing or they’re coming to town or they live in town for that matter, and they want to visit you, where’s the best place to find all that information?
[JE] So the best place to find information about the house is at our website. It’s HeurichHouse.org, and that’s H-E-U-R-I-C-H-H-O-U-S-E dot org. All of our programming is listed on there so anything that we’re having going on at the museum will be listed on the website there. They can also follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook – all of those are @HeurichHouse.
[NR] Perfect. And the final question that we have for every guest of PreserveCast tends to be the most difficult one, but that is your personal favorite historic building or place. And so why don’t we start with Kim first? We’ll kick it over to her and then we’ll come over to Jennifer for her answer.
[KB] Well, I’ll say besides the Heinrich House, I’m like a museum geek even more than a historic site geek, so I could only think of museums and historic buildings. And mine is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, which is my favorite museum but also the building is unbelievable. It was built by Isabella Stewart Gardner who was a very wealthy Bostonian in the early twentieth century. And she just had her own rules, and the house was built – there’s like an interior courtyard that she imported from a Venetian palazzo that was being destroyed. I think it’s fifteenth century. And it’s just reconstructed in the interior of the house with this amazing garden. That’s my favorite.
[NR] That works. And Jennifer, how about you?
[JE] So I am going to keep it a little bit local. I love the National Cathedral here in Washington, D.C. Kim knows this. It’s my favorite building beside the Heurich House. And I think that’s because when I first came to visit D.C., I was in middle school with my parents on a family trip. And it was really the first cathedral I had ever seen. And it was just so impressive to me at the time, and then going inside and seeing the light that they’ve incorporated into the stained glass windows. I’ve gone there more times than I can count. I have an obsession with the gargoyles that are around there. So I think for me, that one’s my favorite historic site. I also really just enjoy going into the gardens, which are designed by Olmsted. So it adds another layer of history. And that would be my favorite historic site.
[NR] Well, two fantastic answers, and new ones. Every once in a while, we’ll get a repeat. But those are two new to us, which are fantastic. Thank you so much to both of you for joining us. This has been great. And maybe we’ll take you up on the offer from before to come down and visit for the next, maybe round two of this. And we can grab a craft beer with you and enjoy the Heurich House in all its glory. But thanks again for all you’re doing and looking forward to talking with you again soon in the future.
[KB and JE] Thank you!
This podcast was developed under a grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a unit of the National Park Service. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Milestones Heritage Area and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the National Park Service or the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.
This week’s episode was produced and engineered by Stephen Israel. Our executive producer is Aaron Marcavitch. Our theme music is performed by the band Pretty Gritty. You can learn more about them at their website: PrettyGrittyMusic.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter @PG_PrettyGritty.
To learn about Preservation Maryland or this week’s guests, visit: PreservationMaryland.org. While there, you can check out our blog and learn about what’s current in historic preservation. We’re also on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and Twitter @PreservationMD. And of course, a very special thank you to our listeners. Keep preserving!