I work at the Mill Centre at 3000 Chestnut Avenue in Hampden. When our company came here four years ago it was a bit run down, having been renovated last in 1987. But it appealed to us because it was quirky, misshapen and flawed—yet stoic, imposing and impressive. We could imagine working here and we pictured ourselves showing clients around the building, giving tours and explaining its thick walls and rail tracks in the floors.
Mill Centre was erected in 1889 as a sailcloth factory, like so many industrial buildings along the Jones Falls. It has sturdy floors to hold heavy equipment and two-feet thick walls on the lower floors to support its four stories. Several buildings surround the properties, built in different periods for varying purposes. At the tops of the surrounding hills still sit several very small rowhouses: some made of stone, some brick, which we imagine were once filled with millworkers and their families. Two or three very large stone mansions are still nearby, which once housed the mill owners and managers. One of the homes had a disagreeable mid-century addition, which was recently removed, thankfully. The mansion is being beautifully restored for a 21st century purpose.
The building gives us fits in the winter when it’s hot inside (too much heat) and in the summer when it’s cold (too much air conditioning). It’s a big building and we’re on the bottom floor so we get the first blast of air. There is an underground spring which runs through the parking lot that freezes in the winter. It is painful to try to explain to visitors how to find us. Not only are the surrounding roads a perplexing puzzle of tiny one-way streets, but once inside the building, finding a particular suite number is an IQ test—suite numbers are not in order, and some of the hallways don’t connect the same way on each floor.
But it’s huge so we exercise along its long hallways and up and down stairwells. We take photos all the time, just because it’s pretty. The vine covering the porch looks like it took root decades (a century?) ago.
We came to love this space, and we made it our own. We took down 1980s era cubicles and built-in desks and moved in mismatched furniture that suits us. We left the old, scratched wooden floor as is and we have ridden bikes and skateboards over it. We have the refinished 1890s National Cash Register from our founder’s grandfather’s fish market and a piece of a B-52 bomber hangs on the wall. We belong here.
Kris Appel is Managing Partner of Operations at Ignition72, Inc.
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