Week 15: Heurich House Museum

From the website: A Washington, D.C. hidden gem, the Heurich House Museum is one of the most intact Victorian houses in the country, and a Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.

The docent who led me on a tour of the Heurich House Museum, also known as the Brewmaster’s Castle, described the home as a “smart house.” Wealthy brewer Christian Heurich may not have used that term to describe his mansion, but he did plan the edifice with great deliberation, considering every detail and contingency. He was a person who thought of everything. This thoroughness included:

  • Installing all the modern conveniences of the day (1890s), such as indoor plumbing.
  • Considering how the space would be used, with options for more or less openness, ease of cleaning, communication between servants on different levels of the house, etc.
  • Putting in the space for an elevator – but insisting that no elevator actually be built until Heurich could no longer walk up and down stairs. He ended up never needing the elevator, so there isn’t one.
  • Designing and decorating so that all the family’s wealth would show, but also making themselves appear even richer than they were through the use of faux finishes.
  • Choosing themes for ceiling paintings and woodwork details that reflect the intended use of each room (food in the dining room, books in the library, sleeping figures in the bedroom).
  • Recalling Heurich’s beloved homeland of Germany by adding German art and objects to the decor, and by having a dedicated drinking space – the bierstube – fixed up like a German tavern.

Salamander on top of Heurich House Museum

And finally, the house reflects the worries of a man whose brewery had caught fire. The finial on top is shaped like a salamander, which, according to legend, can survive fire; the hearth inside uses a light fixture made to only look like flames. Structurally, fire-resistant materials are used; it is only the decorative finishes that are wooden. Heurich only allowed fires in two parts of the house: the small room for smoking meat, and the stove in the kitchen (which was replaced by an electric stove in due time). The website states, “None of [the house’s] 15 fireplaces has ever been used.”

All the consideration put into Heurich’s “smart house” got me thinking about the “smart museum” – everything to consider and, hopefully, figure out before a new museum building is built: safety and comfort of visitors, conditions for objects, needs of staff, accessibility, security, visitor flow, aesthetics, symbolism, future uses and expansions, versatility, durability, ecological and economic sustainability, resistance to fire and other disasters. The docent’s description of Heurich impressed me, not just because Heurich could afford to have so much control over how his house would be, but also because he put so much thought into it. Of course, if he’d known it would one day be a museum, perhaps he would have had the foresight to install that elevator after all.

Holiday decor on the outside of the Heurich House Museum

The house is decorated gorgeously for the holidays, with a tall Christmas tree and a few small ones, garlands everywhere, and more large nutcrackers than I bothered to count. I was sad to read the “No Photography” sign, because the house is quite camera-tempting. You will just have to go visit it yourself!


About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
This entry was posted in Museums and Holidays, Weekly Museum Visits Part II and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Week 15: Heurich House Museum

  1. Thanks so much for visiting and including us as part of your wonderful blog! We are so glad you enjoyed the house and hope you’ll come back soon. In fact, our holiday Candlelight Tour event is tonight from 6-9pm: http://heurichcandlelighttours.eventbrite.com/

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