The renovation and restoration of the long-vacant former American Can Company located on Boston Street in historic Canton has transformed the once-abandoned factory complex into a thriving retail and office complex.
The oldest building on the Can Company site was constructed by the Norton Tin Can and Plate Company in 1895, and by 1900, the company was the largest can manufacturer in the United States. The founder of the Norton Company became the first president of the American Can Company, having been formed in 1901.
Throughout the early 1900s the site expanded to occupy the entire triangular parcel, with the construction of the Boiler House, Factory Building and Annex in 1913, and the Signature Building in 1924. Other structures occupied the site as well, including infill buildings constructed in the early 1960s.
In its heyday, the American Can Company employed as many as 800 Baltimoreans. However, when the American Can merged with the National Can Company in the late 1980’s, the factory was closed, all of the jobs were lost, and the property became vacant. In 1987, the City of Baltimore received a UDAG grant, $8.5 million of which was directed towards clearing the site and constructing a mixed-use commercial and residential development by Michael Swerdlow, including 2 high rise residential towers. After strong community opposition, a PCB spill on the site, and loss of financing, Swerdlow abandoned the project.
In 1994, the now American National Can Company sold the eastern 5.2 acres of the 9.5 acre site to Safeway, which demolished all of the buildings on the 5.2 acres and constructed a new 50,000 square foot supermarket and 300 space parking lot.
In 1997, The Can Company y LLC acquired the remaining 4.3 acres, which included 300,000 square feet in the most historically significant buildings on the site, and began a fast=track construction process to allow its first and largest tenant, DAP Products, Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of sealants and adhesives, to relocate its 40,000 square foot world headquarters to the site in March 1998.
The condition of the brick and concrete before the start of rehabilitation was abysmal. The industrial steel sash windows were either infilled, bent, broken or non-existent, and filled with cardboard, ridged industrial glass, or more often, broken glass.
The concrete and brick walls of the complex were covered with years of paint and graffiti, and in many cases, scarred with damaged brick, deteriorated and spalling, or infilled.
The roofs in the complex were not water tight in any building and were in extremely poor condition.
To add to the challenge, a portion of the Can Company site had been contaminated with lead in the soil. Apparently, when the factory was in operation, the excess lead solder from the soldering plant was disposed of by throwing it out the door into the courtyard area.
The extensive renovation, comple
ted in accordance with the Department of Interior, National Park Service standards, included such unique challenges as:
- the restoration of the industrial steel sash windows
- reglazing of 15,000 panes of glass (utilizing DAP glazing, of course)
- meticulous repairing and repointing of the brick walls using mortar duplicating the strength, composition, color and texture of the existing mortar
- construction of new corrugated metal and built-up roofs for all 5 buildings maintaining one of the defining features of the site
- the salvage and restoration of virtually all of the distinctive stacks, ventilators and monitors on the roofscape
- successfully competing the Brownfields Voluntary Cleanup Program of the Maryland Department of the Environment (becoming the first property in Maryland to do so.)
The Can Company is now the home to several retailers occupying a total of 60,000 square feet, including several retailers and restaurants. The office tenants occupy 140,000 square feet of space in The Can Company.
The Can Company demonstrates that historic preservation and economic development are not mutually exclusive. Rather, The Can Company shows that historic preservation can create a dynamic and unique community center, and that a historic symbol of the industrial past can become a new economic engine for the future.