Adaptive Reuse

 

A long summer weekend finds me escaping the stifling D.C. heat back in my hometown of Cleveland and again in the thick of some innovative preservation work, this time at Crop Bistro & Bar, the dual-purpose restaurant and research and development kitchen of chef and restaurateur, Steve Schimoler, in the heart of the historic Ohio City neighborhood.

The kitchen specializes in modern American cuisine with a focus on local and seasonal ingredients and tonight, my quail stuffed with pecan cornbread, drizzled with a fresh plum sauce, and served on a bed of baby kale salad is exceptional. But perhaps the most impressive element of the meal is the setting.

To create both a viable restaurant and a legitimate research and development kitchen, Schimoler needed a big space. What he found was the United Bank Building. The classical 1925 structure designed by architects Frank Walker and Harry Weeks features six massive arched windows along the building’s facade, a coffered  ceiling, 12 bronze light fixtures ornamented in gold, and 17,000 square feet of floor space, including a 5,000-square-foot vault that now serves as a private dining room.


Diners can walk through the original vault into a private dining room.

The space was originally pitched to Schimoler as a manufacturing facility for special items designed in his test kitchens.

“So I came over and did the tour and I’m like, ‘No way,’” says Schimoler. “There’s no way you can turn this into a manufacturing facility. And I immediately was smitten with the space. I’m a total sucker for historic buildings and I knew at that moment when I walked through here, I said ‘I’m going to do a restaurant here.’”


Inside the vault.

Schimoler did much of the adaptive reuse planning and restoration work himself, including the design of the restaurant layout and the building of the bar, which entailed cutting and hand-polishing original white Carerra Marble that was discovered in the basement. He also restored the 1925 mural of a marketplace, which revealed billowing storm clouds in the background – perhaps a prescient nod, Schimoler suggests, to the October 1929 stock market crash that shuttered the building four years after its completion.

“It was almost like it was [originally] designed to be a restaurant,” Schimoler says of the building. “I have restaurateurs and chefs come in here from all over the country and they’re like, ‘we couldn’t have designed it as a better restaurant.’ It’s kind of scary.”

But the United Bank Building isn’t Schimoler’s first foray into historic preservation. He previously adapted a 200-year-old grist mill in Waterbury, Vermont that lacked running water and electricity into a similar restaurant venture, renaming it The Mist Grill (since closed).

Schimoler says his love for historic buildings is the result of his upbringing in an 18th century home on Long Island and a mother who was active in their local preservation society.

“One of the things that I’m really most proud of is that we have thousands and thousands of people that are coming through the doors of Crop who are getting a chance to see this piece of history,” he says.

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.

David Robert Weible

David Robert Weible

David Robert Weible is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He came to DC from Cleveland, Ohio, where he wrote for Sailing World and Outside magazines.

 

Last week, National Trust staffers took a field trip -- or, more accurately, a tunnel trip.

We descended into the steamy underground for a little-seen glimpse of Washington’s past -- the 75,000 sq. ft. trolley station and one-time fallout station that served DC’s popular Dupont Circle neighborhood until it was closed in 1975. (More on Dupont Underground's history here.)

 
Now, the Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground (ACDU) -- a group of dedicated architects, designers, businesspeople, and community leaders -- is working to reinvent the unused space as “a world-class center for arts, design, and innovative entrepreneurship.”

Our enthusiastic guide on this shadowy tour was Julian Hunt, ACDU’s founder and interim chairman as well as a Principal at Hunt Laudi Studio. His aim is to get the community excited about the possibilities the space affords and fire up their imaginations about how it can become a civic hub.

 
And fire them up he did. We left our 90-minute tour buzzing about the impact such a vibrant, multi-use space could have on the surrounding neighborhood. The plans call for green spaces, arts, community space, and civic engagement -- all with a preservation-friendly through line of adaptive reuse.

I followed up with my colleagues after the tour to capture their reactions to and reflections on the project, and their comments are as multi-faceted as Dupont Underground itself:

Lauren B.: I would love to see the space used to showcase local artists and for underground art walks, installations, interactive plays, and a haunted house. Revitalizing the trolley tracks would set an example about recycling old spaces for new uses and hopefully inspire similar projects.

Andy G.: I hope that the space is easily accessible by the public without changing the appealing and historic aspects of the above ground Dupont Circle community. I’d like to see a space that is well-maintained, frequently used, and that enhances the connectivity of Dupont Circle.

Tanya B.: Dupont Circle is a gathering space for DC’s homeless population. Why not build on the fact that the underground space had been occupied by many homeless before Dupont Underground got access, cleaned it up, and secured it? Creating jobs with livable wages will help. Can there be some sort of job training attached to whatever employment system gets created with Dupont Underground?

Claire H.: I would love to see the space transformed into a public, cultural center through partnerships with the neighborhood’s museums and embassies.

Dennis H.: When Americans (and likely the rest of the world) think about Washington, D.C., they think of tradition, classical architecture, museums, and partisan politics. Cutting-edge preservation, not so much. But converting the abandoned tunnels into a vibrant, useful space would put D.C. in the global spotlight for innovation.

Ann T.: The tunnels are odd, but quite beautiful in a strange way. It’s hard for me to picture any sort of regular activity down there. So I think I’d hope for something bizarre and new and playful that I can’t quite imagine -- something arts-related or artist-inspired. I was actually most intrigued by the above-ground entrances to the tunnels and the accompanying revitalized public spaces and how they could knit the city together. The quality of the designs for both the tunnel and the above-ground improvements was high and had a real “big city, global city” feel.

John P.: The Tour was almost like being in a sci-fi movie of a great city’s archaeological find and we were touring the find and talking about its history -- what it was and why it was and why it ended. We knew the truth and facts of course, but it was still a fascinating footprint of local times gone by and history.

Priya C.: After walking through the Dupont Underground I can see the space becoming something vibrant, distinctive, and creative. I think that like anything that has been abandoned it has the potential to spur on conversation -- and I hope that it will become a place where residents and visitors alike can gather and mingle. The impact it could have on the city is boundless -- not only as a piece of architecture that puts the city on the map in a modern sense, but also as a way to take old memories of what the underground used to be into the next generation. I know that the project is immense, but it is brimming with possibility and wonder.

And what would I like to see? I hope the tunnels once again connect the city in a thoughtful, purposeful way -- not with trolley tracks as of yore, but with smart planning and people-friendly design. Watching this project evolve right in our backyard is a rare delight, and to one day be able to say “I saw it when …” would be a great sign of progress.

If our experience has intrigued you, we encourage you to stay in touch with Dupont Undergound on Twitter, Facebook, and through their mailing list. You can also join as a volunteer, share your ideas for the space, and donate to the cause.

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.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

Denver's Emerson School Building Reopens After Green Restoration

Posted on: May 30th, 2012 by Jim Lindberg

 

The flag of the National Trust is flying high over the historic Emerson School in Denver, Colorado! National Trust President Stephanie Meeks and Chief Preservation Officer David Brown returned to their 5th grade “flag patrol” days to hoist the National Trust's banner as part of last week’s grand opening festivities, which also included a ribbon-cutting ceremony and an open house attended by more than 250 guests.


National Trust President Stephanie Meeks and Chief Preservation Officer David Brown preparing to raise the flags.

These events marked the completion of a $3.2 million “green rehabilitation” of the Emerson School. Donated to the National Trust in 2010, this 1885 schoolhouse is now home to the Trust’s Denver Field Office, as well as seven other nonprofit organizations, including Historic Denver, Colorado Preservation, and Downtown Colorado.

When we launched the Emerson School project last August, part of our plan was to demonstrate replicable approaches for making older buildings more energy efficient and sustainable. With the project now complete, we can point to four basic, adaptable strategies used at the Emerson School that we believe can apply to similar building retrofit projects. ... Read More →

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.

 

Written by David Alpert

I recently visited an American city with many downtown buildings from a long-departed industry. The city's downtown is now experiencing new life, and many of the historic buildings are finding new uses after sitting vacant for many years.

 
This is a complex of old warehouses which have now become retail and offices. The developer added a really amazing water feature, a long river which cascades down waterfalls at various intervals. There are small footbridges across the river and even stepping stones to cross in one place.

The old chutes for the products remain and now serve as decorative flourishes. In the center is an old railcar, like those that once transported goods to and from the facility.

 
At another location nearby, people have turned several old garages into bars and music halls. They've also become a popular spot for food trucks, and two were sitting outside as we passed by on a Saturday.

 
Both of these [examples] demonstrate the preservation concept of "adaptive reuse." Old, historic buildings can become a valued part of a changing community by taking on different functions that residents need today. The distinct architecture of the structures and the small details that nobody would build today adds character and interest.

Can you guess the city?

[Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington]

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington. He has had a lifelong interest in great cities and great communities.

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.

 

Friends of the High Line and the City of New York, co-creators of the now-famous park on a reused elevated railroad through the west side of Manhattan, unveiled their plans for the third phase of the landmark preservation project at a public meeting last night. Check out the slideshow below for images of how the newly-restored and reimagined section will look:

This phase addresses the rail yards portion of the project at the northern terminus of the High Line, where more than 12 million square feet of new office, residential, retail, and cultural uses are planned for the site as part of the Hudson Yards development above the rail yards.

Construction of the High Line will be closely coordinated with the development of Hudson Yards, with the park fully built out on the majority of the eastern section of the historic railway, and an interim walkway built over the western section. ... Read More →

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.