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Old Posted Oct 7, 2005, 5:25 AM
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Suburban Lou Suburban Lou is offline
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Couple is brewing new life into beer factory
By Tavia Evans

A bicyclist passes by the former Centennial Malt House for Schnaider Brewery.

Wendy Hamilton thinks it was the arched entryways in the basement that caught her eye first, wide enough for the horse-drawn wagons that might have passed through the building in the late 19th century. Today, she thinks the space would be perfect for a lower-level wine shop.

Her husband, Paul Hamilton, can envision the views of the Arch and downtown St. Louis' skyline from the future rooftop terrace of a new restaurant - Vingt Dix Sept - the building's address in French.

At the moment, the building at 2017 Chouteau Avenue, bears little resemblance to their visions.

Built in 1876 and formerly home to the Centennial Malt House, it was an annex of the Joseph Schnaider Chouteau Avenue Brewery that lined the block of Chouteau and Mississippi avenues in the 1870s.

The Hamiltons are turning the two-story building into a banquet hall with a rooftop restaurant. Some office and retail space also might go into the 35,000-square-foot building, which they expect to have ready by April.

After several reincarnations, including storage for auto parts and a shade manufacturing company, the structure suffered from years of neglect and has been open to the elements.

It will cost $4 million to renovate the building and make it structurally sound. "The former owner thought we were crazy; he said we should tear it down," Wendy Hamilton said.

The couple has experience handling old structures. The Hamiltons renovated and own 1111 Mississippi, the Lafayette Square restaurant named for its address. It's housed in the former brewery's main building.

The Hamiltons paid $400,000 for the property on Chouteau in April.

Spiegelglass Construction Co. is the general contractor.

National City Bank is financing the project; a mix of state and federal historic tax credits also might help fund it.

With that in mind, the couple has applied for the building to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"Their restaurant has been successful, and the location and facility they're proposing dovetails nicely with the other projects in the area" said Brian Davies, who brokered the deal for National City.

The building will need new electrical wiring and plumbing. Wooden structural beams made of rare Douglas fir hold up the inside of the building, but many will need to be replaced because of rot from exposure to water and weather.

On the rooftop, the couple say they'll build a deck and repair an L-shaped building that will become part of a French, bistro-style restaurant. An old grain chute, along with pieces of slate, wheels, pipes and parts scattered from a century ago will be incorporated into the building's design, Paul Hamilton said.

But the 129-year-old building is still revealing surprises, such as the bricked-up archways the couple found throughout the structure. A once-hidden tunnel in the basement leads to a bricked-up wall under Chouteau Avenue. The Hamiltons believe the tunnel might originally have been at street-level, back when the neighborhood bustled with business at the old brewery.
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