When Joe Lambert bought the elegant Second Empire Peter Brehm home in 2013, he could see traces of its many former uses. That it started as a family home was obvious, because the basic layout–living room, dining room, kitchen, and upstairs bedrooms–was unchanged.
Brewer Peter Brehm built the house in 1870 in what was then a perfect location, close to both downtown and his brewery on Fourth St. (now Math Reviews). But just two years later Brehm lost his business, and the next year he committed suicide. The late local historian Wystan Stevens speculated that Brehm may have been a casualty of the financial Panic of 1873.
Brehm’s wife, Louisa, and two children, Gustav and Elizabeth, remained in the home until 1896, when they sold it to the Arnold family. It stayed in single-family use until the 1950s, when it was purchased by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a service club dedicated to feeding widows and orphans.
In 1979 the Odd Fellows sold it to Moveable Feast catering, which turned it into an upscale restaurant that introduced many Ann Arborites to French and nouvelle cuisine. Co-owner Ricky Agranoff recalls that it still looked like a family home when they moved in, but there was one reminder of its more recent use: shortly after they bought the building, the owners were hosting a New Year’s Eve party when an uninvited guest turned up–a hungry man who didn’t know that the Odd Fellows had left. “He didn’t understand our food, but he ate it and was very grateful,” recalls Agranoff.
When the Feast’s founders retired, Dan and Carol Huntsbarger bought the business, refocused on catering, and moved it to Manchester. But its time in food service left its mark on 326 W. Liberty–when Lambert took over, the kitchen was still filled with appliances, big vents, and industrial windows, and there was a walk-in “cold box” outside. He also found water pipes sticking out of the floor, from a more recent tenant, Identity Salon and Spa.
Lambert’s needs were entirely different: he is president and CEO of Sequoia Applied Solutions, which does design and consulting for aerospace, Department of Defense, and commercial clients. But he has managed to remodel the building in ways that work for him, while keeping as much of the historic ambience as possible. The family rooms, with the restoration of doors, made perfect offices for Sequoia and Lambert’s other tenants, two financial advisors and a web marketing firm. He incorporated the former kitchen into a shared lounge and meeting room, and plans to add a second story to the small building in back that the Moveable Feast used as a bake house. Once it’s done he’ll move Sequoia there, freeing the Brehm House to be totally rented out.
The treatment of the front porch is a perfect example of Lambert’s philosophy of making the building meet modern needs while still retaining its historic character. He is re-creating the original porch using old photographs, but adding a hydraulic lift to make the building wheelchair accessible. He will open the house to visitors as part of the Old West Side Homes Tour on September 20.
Lambert took out the Moveable Feast’s cold box to build a seating area and a grill–a perfect place for outdoor conferences, lunches, events, and cookouts. But the box, and another cooler formerly located in the basement, didn’t go far: both are now installed across the street at Argus Farm Stop.