When Baltimorean William Painter invented the bottle cap in 1891, it didn’t take long for beverage companies (beer brewers in particular) to realize its value, and for Painter to realize he needed to build significant manufacturing facilities to keep up with demand. Painter's enterprise, the Crown Cork and Seal Company, opened its first big production facility in 1897 on Guilford Avenue and not long after expanded by opening a larger complex on Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown in 1906. The Guilford Avenue complex continued as the base of operations for custom building the sealing machinery while the Highlandtown complex acted as the hub of Crown Cork and Seal’s manufacturing operations.
In 1910, the Highlandtown complex expanded again to include two new buildings. Both used mill construction with brick exteriors and granite trimmings as well as new advances like fireproof elevator shafts, fire escapes and ventilators. The five story building had two massive water towers that held 15,000 gallons each to be released in case a fire broke out inside.
Crown Cork and Seal’s Highlandtown complex became the base of machinery production in 1928 after the owners abandoned the Guildford Avenue plant. Despite its modern fire protections, however, the added activity at the complex and its constantly whirring electrical machines were at high risk of fire. In 1940, managers at the building made twenty-six calls to the fire department, almost all of which appeared unnecessary, until one signaled a very real five-alarm fire. Despite the loss of $500,000 in baled cork, the company minimized the damage and kept churning out bottle caps for the world’s beer brewers.
In 1958, Crown Cork and Seal moved its headquarters from Baltimore to Philadelphia and the owners sold a group of thirty buildings, including the Guilford Avenue complex, to the city for $1.5 million. The Highlandtown plant continued to operate for nearly 30 more years, but finally closed in 1987 as use of aluminum and plastic containers rose and the demand for glass bottle caps waned. Today the building houses artist studios and light manufacturing and is occasionally used by movie studios.