[10 on Tuesday] How to Support Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings

Posted on: October 15th, 2013 by Guest Writer 11 Comments

Written by Andy Grabel, Manager, Public Affairs

From historic power plants to breweries to schoolhouses, the adaptive reuse potential of old buildings is seemingly limitless. Today’s toolkit features tips to help you promote reuse in your own community as well as several examples of successful reuse projects.

First, five preservation tips regarding reuse projects:

1. Do your homework. Research building reuse successes and missed opportunities in your community so that you may be a stronger advocate for preserving the character of your community’s vacant and threatened historic buildings.

2. Contact your state historic preservation office and local planning department. Preservation professionals can provide additional guidance and local resources for promoting building reuse in your community. The local planning department can address how zoning and building regulations may enable or hinder reuse.

3. Let your voice be heard. Tell your local officials that building reuse is an important contributor to economic and social well-being of your community. Encourage them to remove regulatory barriers to reuse and modernize zoning and building regulations. Consider sharing your views by writing to your city council members or by speaking at one of their meetings.

Toy warehouse in Los Angeles. Credit: CEBimagery.com, Flickr
This former toy warehouse in downtown LA was converted into loft apartments.

4. Support businesses and organizations that adaptively reuse historic buildings. From big box retailers to locally owned businesses and nonprofit institutions, diverse groups and individuals are adaptively reusing historic buildings in creative ways across the country. (See case studies in the next section.) Do your part by patronizing these preservation-friendly organizations.

5. Share on social media. Posting photos and commentary on favorite reuse projects in your community is a great way to spread the word about the value and innovation of adaptive reuse. (Learn more in our social media toolkit series.)

Next, five examples of successful reuse projects to get you started:

1. Downtown Los Angeles: Throughout the city, innovative reuse projects are showing how diverse older buildings can be repurposed to meet the marketplace’s changing demands. The city’s Adaptive Reuse Ordinance has helped encourage the reuse of historic buildings downtown, with some 14,000 residential units created in converted buildings between 1999 and 2013. The National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab is partnering with the Urban Land Institute to help other cities to learn from reuse best practices in Los Angeles. Learn more.

2. Power Plant (St. Louis, Mo.): In 2010, Gilded Age developers and Environmental Operations, Inc. began restoring a former hospital power plant and looking for a tenant that could occupy the 10,000 square feet of space. Serendipitously, Climb So iLL, a climbing gym, needed a large open space for their facility, and with the support of their partners, became the first occupants of the soaring plant space in 26 years. Learn more.

The building now serves as a small-business incubator, as well as housing the mill. Credit: Amber Lambke
The Skowhegan Jail building now serves as a small-business incubator and houses a mill.

3. Pabst Brewhouse (Milwaukee, Wis.): Brewhouse Inn & Suites, a 90-room boutique hotel, opened in April 2013 in the 1892 building that was the original home of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. The hotel used lumber salvaged from the building to make the headboards for its beds as well as the tables for its bar and extended-stay rooms. Learn more.

4. The Navy Yard (Philadelphia, Pa.): Retailer Urban Outfitters moved its operations to Philadelphia to the historic Navy Yard beginning with the purchase and rehabilitation of five abandoned industrial buildings. The project has sparked the rebirth and economic development of south Philadelphia. Learn more.

5. Skowhegan Jail (Skowhegan, Maine): Amber Lambke thought that the jail would make a great grist mill when she toured the building in 2007. Today, Maine Grains in the Somerset Grist Mill sells flour and rolled oats at the Pickup Cafe (housed in the building) and through distribution companies throughout New England. Learn more.

Learning from Los Angeles is the first in a new series of research and policy reports from the Partnership for Building Reuse, a joint effort of the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab and the Urban Land Institute. For more information about adaptive reuse and the impact of sustainability in preservation, subscribe to the Preservation Green Lab’s weekly sustainability newsletter by emailing Jeana Wiser at jwiser[at]savingplaces[dot]org.

Do you have a great example of an adaptive reuse project in your community? Let us know in the comments!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

10 on Tuesday, Adaptive Reuse, Tools

11 Responses

  1. Ric Cochrane

    October 15, 2013

    Great post — thanks, Andy!
    I’ll add to your list of preservation tips: “Mobilize your community and work with the owner.”
    Case in point: In Seattle, the Green Lab was concerned that development pressure would threaten one of our most iconic auto-row buildings in the Pike/Pine neighborhood. In addition to contacting Seattle Landmarks, we reached out directly to the owner and the community, which has a strong preservation focus. As a result of this outreach, one of our strategic partners, an architecture firm, began working with the owner, and it was recently announced that a major anchor tenant is moving into the building and undertaking a full restoration that includes energy efficiency retrofit. Complete success.

  2. Joe

    October 15, 2013

    We have the Beacon Elementary School and Trinity High School buildings in Decatur, Ga. They were built in the 1950s and redeveloped in 2013 thanks to a historic preservation fund grant: http://wp.me/p1bnGQ-2nu

  3. Rachel

    October 15, 2013

    REi in Bend, Oregon reused the power plant from the Brooks-Scanlon lumber mill. New structural frame fit inside the existing masonry walls, and the three smokestacks were retained as an iconic symbol of our former mill days…

  4. Heather Rice

    October 17, 2013

    The Savannah Children’s Museum in Savannah, Georgia. This outdoor museum was created out of a former abandoned railroad building in the Georgia State Railroad Museum complex.

  5. Tommy Kramer

    October 18, 2013

    The Marathon Motor Works in Nashville, TN is a great example of Adaptive use (reuse is redundant.) Great combination of shops, studios etc. Home to the first American Pickers store outside of Iowa.


  6. Julie S.

    October 18, 2013

    The Bun Shop in Baltimore…amazing, unique buns and Vietnamese ice coffee. The building is a repurposed hardware store on a quaint little historic street. My favorite hangout.


  7. R. Sibley

    October 18, 2013

    Being a little bit of a train buff, I’m always amazed at how many depots have been effectively reused. The depot in Hope, Arkansas has a museum, visitors center and waiting room. Out in California, the old Santa Fe depot in San Juan Capistrano has long housed a popular restaurant.

    San Juan Capistrano: http://www.greatamericanstations.com/Stations/SNC
    Hope: http://www.greatamericanstations.com/Stations/HOP

  8. Richard Orareo

    October 18, 2013

    The Honeywell Studio in Wabash Indiana was built as a movie studio for Mark Honeywell to explore movie making as his hobby. It was built in 1936 in a Tudor style. The building later became the Honeywell Country Club on an 18 hole golf course. It next became a private up-scale restaurant. Following years of decline and a full year of restoration This National Historic Registry building is now The National Shrine of the Holy Shroud. It houses one of the world’s great collections of devotional art depicting The Holy Shroud. Come and visit.
    Richard Orareo

  9. tang can

    October 21, 2013

    great post, tks for you sharing. Following years of decline and a full year of restoration This National Historic Registry building is now The National Shrine of the Holy Shroud. It houses one of the world’s great collections of devotional art depicting The Holy Shroud. Come and visit.

  10. PristineLofts.co.uk

    October 24, 2013


    The above article which gives the concept adaptive reuse potential is very useful and the photo regarding this topic is very attractive also.Thanks for sharing it…

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