The Beer Can Reopener

Here’s a story about the Beer Can House, which is having a grand re-opening party this weekend after a successful restoration.

The Beer Can House is, after all, an homage to individual vision, although Milkovisch, who died in 1988, might have preferred to call it an homage to Texas Pride and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Or a way to avoid painting the house.

Decide for yourself. People will be able to see it up close when the house reopens March 8, one of the few remaining bungalows in a neighborhood now filled with expensive, three-story townhouses. Docents will be on hand between noon and 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, showcasing what more than 40,000 beer cans and other whimsical additions can do for a house. (The house will be open by appointment, as well, and available for rental to groups of 25 or fewer.)

There are garlands made of pull tabs, the tops and bottoms of beer cans and cutouts from the sides of cans, all hanging from the eaves. That shaded the house from the harsh Houston sun, reducing Milkovisch’s electric bills. The small yard is covered in concrete slabs, dotted with glass marbles. Just a way to get out of mowing the lawn, he insisted.

The mailbox and fences are covered with cans, and wooden sculptures are studded with metal letters — AMEN, reads the top of a wooden ladder — and elaborate cutouts.

“John Milkovisch never thought of himself as an artist,” said Julie Birsinger, project manager for the Beer Can House. He was, instead, an upholsterer and a beer drinker.


Birsinger had to figure out how to renovate a house covered in beer cans, which isn’t the sort of thing taught in art-restoration courses. Her goal was to restore the work to its original condition and to replace any artistic elements that couldn’t be repaired.

The sunlight that once twinkled off the glass and metal is now in short supply as towering townhomes loom over the house, so new lighting will be added to recapture some of the ambience. Originally, the Orange Show had hoped to buy an adjacent lot for parking space; that didn’t work out, so parking remains at a premium throughout the neighborhood.

As for the house’s signature d├ęcor, many of the cans were in good enough condition to be rehung after cleaning — a good thing since Birsinger couldn’t run to the corner store for a six-pack when she needed new materials.

Beer cans have changed. Some brands are no longer produced. Other labels have been redesigned, detachable pull tabs are history and modern cans aren’t even made of the same material as cans from decades past.

No problem, thanks to members of the Brewery Collectibles Clubs of America, who responded to a call for vintage cans from the 1960s and 1970s.

I cannot tell you how much I love the fact that there is such a thing as the Brewery Collectibles Clubs of America, and that they were able to respond to a call for “vintage cans from the 1960s and 1970s”. Talk about one man’s trash being another’s treasure. Anyway, go visit the Beer Can House when you get a chance. It’s a true gem of Houston, and I couldn’t be happier that it’s in good hands.

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