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Jacques Kelly: Constructing a new future from Haven Street's industrial past

Dave Seibert, president and CEO of ControlTec, Inc., is renovating an old warehouse on North Haven Street in East Baltimore. Part of the warehouse complex has already been renovated into offices and businesses including Monument City Brewing.
Dave Seibert, president and CEO of ControlTec, Inc., is renovating an old warehouse on North Haven Street in East Baltimore. Part of the warehouse complex has already been renovated into offices and businesses including Monument City Brewing. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

The battered railroad tracks covered by a threadbare coating of asphalt offer an indication of how busy this industrial part of East Baltimore once was, when workers punched clocks at places such as Conowingo Wallpaper, Savarese Macaroni and the Carstairs Distillery.

In those days, 1 N. Haven St. was a campus of brick structures where oversized saws whirled, making work of the mahogany logs that arrived from the Indies to this part of Baltimore.

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Once split, sliced thin and processed at the old Williamson Veneer factory, these heavy and prized woods became the outer layer of pianos, dining room tables, and radio and phonograph cabinets. The place smelled of shellac and sawdust.

Then, a century ago during World War I, the plant converted to a defense industry, turning out thousands of walnut gun stocks.

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Today this set of sturdy structures, built in the early years of the last century, is being re-purposed and renamed Highland Forge.

Some people are predicting the days of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course are numbered. They should remember the track, and the race, has faced down extinction before but paired up nicely for a comeback.

Monument City Brewing Co., one component within this block-long village, has already made a name for itself with its pilsner, brown ale, IPA and rye beers. The newest tenant here is Urban Axes, where patrons can throw steel hatchets at a target.

Workers tackled 1 Haven Street’s largest building this spring, the heart of the old veneer-making operation. It once had its own Pennsylvania Railroad spur and a sizable boiler room where a new restaurant is planned. The long parking lot is also a former railroad bed whose rails once fed into the present day Amtrak and MARC mainline tracks at Orangeville.

Located in the Baltimore Highlands neighborhood, a community just north of Eastern Avenue and Highlandtown, Highland Forge is the work of Metro Development’s David Seibert, a mechanical engineer who, with his wife, Shelley, bought the battered structures beginning in 2008 and have been reconditioning the former mill and factory buildings ever since.

The center structure got a much-need new roof a few weeks ago. Look for the sprinkers and windows to be arriving soon.

The doorway at Mount Vernon’s 101 West Monument St. is inlaid in brass, and clearly states: Hotel Revival. It’s a new name, and a thoroughly new take for a landmark that has undergone a two-year transformation into a 107-room boutique-style hotel.

“This is a communal project, a park with flex-space in entertainment, mixed-use and office components,” said Seibert as he led a tour. “We will be offering maker spaces on the first floor and maybe find a tenant who’ll take the entire second and third floor.”

Seibert expresses a broad vision for the industrial corridor along Haven Street, the north-south thoroughfare that takes a steady pounding of heavy commercial truck traffic even if the neighborhood’s old steel mills and other industries have closed.

“The whole Haven Street corridor is going to change, change big, in the next five years,” Seibert said. “The momentum that moved along Boston Street years ago — and helped fuel the Canton and Highlandtown revival — will move this way. The old industries and their plants will be something else.”

While the Highland Forge property he is redeveloping has no housing component, Seibert notes the proximity to Ryland Homes’ Oldham Crossing, a townhouse community on Oldham Street. And another developer recently broke ground on a mixed-used project at the former Porcelain Enamel plant on Eastern Avenue at the adjacent Bayview section.

He said employers and residents like the urban mix of old working buildings and the residential streets that are characteristic of Highlandtown and Baltimore Highlands.

“The post-industrial look of the warehouses attracts the tech companies,” Seibert said.

With Monument City Brewery at the south end of his complex and the renamed King Cork and Seal building at the north end, Highland Forge has found a home with its working neighbors.

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It sits beween two Baltimore classic brands: To the west is a component building of the H&S Bakery operation; to the north is the Pompeian Olive Oil Co.

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