Time takes its toll on buildings even as it deepens a community’s connection to them. Those structures that survive for decades serve as a link to the past, a site for shared memory, and an anchor in the often-changing urban landscape. Often, they were built with a high level of craftsmanship that is unattainable today in new construction.
All completed in the past five years, the following ten projects—which are listed alphabetically, not in any rank order—bring back valuable community resources from decline and neglect. Some crumbled slowly over the course of long vacancies as cities sought ways to pay for necessary seismic strengthening and repairs. Some endured early remodeling attempts that hid or destroyed ornamental details, and some were devastated by earthquake or fire, or both. Some simply suffered from dwindling use as tenant needs changed. They date back as far as the 18th century (a grain warehouse converted into modern offices, a jail adapted to house modern residences) to as recent as the early 20th century (two palatial movie theaters rescued from oblivion, a hotel that served as a political hotspot).
1. Balboa Theatre San Diego, California
The grand urban theaters of the early 1900s often boasted ornate, whimsical architecture with exotic accents. San Diego’s Balboa Theatre may be the only one that also features two 41-foot-high (12.5-m) waterfalls flanking its stage. Originally built for vaudeville and silent movies in 1924, the Balboa served as a Spanish-language cinema, temporary military housing during World War II, and an action-movie house. The city shut the theater’s doors in the mid-1980s for seismic safety reasons.
The city’s redevelopment arm, Centre City Development Corporation, lacked the funds for the necessary structural work for a long time. With the revitalization of Horton Plaza and the Gaslamp Quarter Historic District on either side of the theater, increases in tax increment financing finally enabled the restoration to proceed. Phoenix-based Westlake Reed Leskosky restored the Balboa’s grandeur, updating the infrastructure, repairing the tiled dome, re-creating the entry marquee and exterior blade sign, and restoring the bronze wall paint, the lobby murals, and—of course—the waterfalls. Completed in 2008, the Balboa now hosts local and regional performances.
2. Eastern MarketWashington, D.C.
Ironically, it took a fire to get Washington, D.C.’s Eastern Market the renovation it needed. The city’s oldest continuously operating public market—opened in 1873 and expanded in 1908—became so popular after arts and crafts vendors joined the produce sellers in the 1970s that when the city initiated planning for renovation in 2005, it was decided that the busy market had to remain open during construction, even though that limited the project’s scope. Then a 2007 fire gutted the 1873 building and forced closure of the market, allowing for an expanded effort.
Led by local firm Quinn Evans Architects, the rehabilitation replaced the roof assembly, retaining many of the original iron trusses, while re-creating the historic skylight and ridge vent system that long ago had been lost. Added sustainable strategies included high-efficiency lighting and HVAC systems, high-performance glazing, and stormwater filtration. The fire damage revealed irreparable structural deterioration in the first floor; replacing the floor enabled the relocation of the HVAC system and electrical distribution to the basement. Eastern Market reopened in 2009.
3. Ford Point Richmond, California
In the 1930s, the Ford Assembly Plant on the San Francisco Bay churned out fossil fuel–burning vehicles. Now, it sports solar panels. In the 1940s, the plant manufactured military jeeps and tanks. Today, audiences attend dance and symphony performances there. Built in 1931 for Henry Ford, the 525,000-square-foot (49,000-sq-m) facility closed in the 1950s, and although the city of Richmond took over the facility in 1975, plans to find a private developer went unfulfilled until Orton Development of Emeryville, California, purchased it in 2004.
The original architect, Albert Kahn, had provided a continuous expanse of steel sash windows and sawtooth clerestories that flooded the space with natural light. Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects of Berkeley, California, restored these and converted the high-ceilinged waterfront portion into a performance, conference, and dining facility, with a patio facing the wharf. The rest of the building was repurposed for offices. One tenant—solar panel manufacturer SunPower—equipped the sawtooth roof with enough photovoltaic panels to meet virtually all the office tenants’ electricity needs. The project was completed in 2009.
4. Fox Theater Spokane, Washington
After 70 years of hosting live performances and movies, the art deco Fox Theater in downtown Spokane was showing its age. In addition, its grand 2,300-seat auditorium had been chopped up into three movie theaters and the large murals of the natural world had mostly been painted over. When the owners put the building up for sale in 2000, one potential buyer wanted to demolish it to create a parking lot. Instead, the Spokane Symphony, which had played in the space during the late 1960s and early 1970s, raised the funds to purchase the facility.
Local firm NAC Architecture led the effort, which required meticulously restoring the murals, cleaning and restoring or re-creating historic light fixtures, and removing street-level shops to make room for an expanded lobby and restrooms. Taking out seating from beneath the balcony and modifying portions of the structure allowed the design team to reshape the sightlines to suit the specific requirements of symphonic performances. With the help of both historic and new markets tax credits, the revitalized theater reopened in 2007.
5. Iron Market Port-au-Prince, Haiti
In the wake of the January 2010 earthquake that laid waste to Haiti’s capital city, reconstruction efforts have been greatly hampered by poverty and corruption. One success story, however, is the rebuilding of the Iron Market, a 19th-century public market that long served as a hub for nearly 1,000 vendors. A fire in 2008 had already damaged the structure, which consists of two naturally ventilated wings connected by a clock tower with four distinctive minarets. The quake finished it off.
Denis O’Brien, the owner of the country’s largest cellphone service, Digicel, decided to bring the 20,000-square-foot (1,900-sq-m) Iron Market back to life—with an unusually aggressive schedule: reopen the market within a year. London-based John McAslan + Partners led the reconstruction, which involved salvaging as many of the original cast-iron columns and bricks as possible, reconstructing the north hall entirely, rehabilitating the clock tower, installing new corrugated-steel roofs on halls, and bringing the facility up to the requirements of the International Building Code. The facility opened on schedule in January 2011.
6. Hilton Garden Inn Jackson Downtown/Standard Life Lofts Jackson, Mississippi
The King Edward Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi, played a key role in the capital city’s life after opening in 1923, serving as a home for many state legislators and hosting high-class events. Closed in 1967, the 12-story neoclassical revival–style hotel became a blight on downtown as redevelopment schemes fell through and pigeons took up residence.
Finally, the city sold the hotel to New Orleans–based HRI Properties, local developer David Watkins, and local investor Deuce McAlister, who leveraged new markets tax credits to bring the hotel back. Work included restoring the exterior, roof, water-damaged interior, ballroom, and lobby rotunda. Thomas Hamilton & Associates of Richmond, Virginia, designed the hotel interiors. Reopened as the Hilton Garden Inn Jackson Downtown in early 2010, the hotel contains 186 rooms and 64 luxury apartments.
The developers also purchased the 1929 Standard Life Building next door for residential conversion and combined the two projects, allowing use of new markets tax credits to extend to both and drawing on economies of scale in construction. The 18-story former office building opened in 2010 and includes 76 apartments above shops.
7. Meier & Frank Square/The Nines
The Meier & Frank Department Store building has occupied a full city block in downtown Portland since 1932, with the oldest portion dating to 1909. As the store began diminishing its presence in the 1980s and 1990s, the Portland Development Commission worked to find ways to breathe new life into the 15-story structure and brought in Denver-based Sage Hospitality in 2005. Macy’s, which had purchased Meier & Frank, sold the upper nine floors to Sage Hospitality for conversion into a 334-room hotel called the Nines.
Local firm SERA Architects renovated the basement and first five floors to serve as a Macy’s store, which opened in 2007, and inserted a seven-story atrium into the upper floors to bring natural light into the interior. The project also involved seismically strengthening the structure; converting the eighth floor into a hotel lobby; restoring the white terra-cotta facade, historic windows, and mansard roof; and incorporating sustainable strategies such as low-flow plumbing fixtures that enabled the hotel to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification. The Nines opened in 2008.
8. Navigation Warehouse Wakefield, England
Along the River Calder in Wakefield, England, two structures erected around 1780 and expanded and joined around 1816 served as a grain warehouse until the late 1980s—a rare surviving example of its building type. By 2005, the foundation had settled significantly and unevenly, and portions of the roof and walls had collapsed. As part of the first phase of the Wakefield Waterfront regeneration initiative—spearheaded by private developer CTP St. James of Leeds, West Yorkshire; the Wakefield Council; and British Waterways of Watford, Hertfordshire—the historic building has been restored and adapted for office and retail use.
The design, by Building Design Partnership Ltd. of Manchester, England, retained as much of the original fabric as possible and inserted a minimal steel structure. Adding vertical circulation and services to the center of the edifice—between the two original warehouse structures—enables maximal flexibility for leasing the spaces to one or multiple tenants. Original artifacts such as grain chutes and cranes were repaired and remain on site. The project was completed in 2008.
9. Salem Jail Salem, Massachusetts
The Salem Redevelopment Authority of Salem, Massachusetts, had a derelict jail complex on its hands. Declared unfit and closed by court order in 1991, the historic structures—the oldest dating to 1813—suffered from vandalism and neglect. Local residents expressed a desire for a project that would include community amenities, given the site’s proximity to downtown and the waterfront. The winning proposal, by New Boston Ventures of Boston, called for 23 condominiums, a restaurant, and landscaped open space.
When the recession hit, the developers decided to develop the units as apartments eligible for condo conversion in five years, a strategy that opened up alternative financing from state and federal historic tax credits and enabled the project to go forward. Finegold Alexander + Associates Inc. of Boston preserved existing details when possible, including the jail’s distinctive cupolas and stonework, while inserting modern interiors into the granite-block buildings. The housing and restaurant portions opened in 2010. An original jail cell has been preserved as a museum.
10. Sullivan Center Chicago, Illinois
The nine-building Sullivan Center in the Chicago Loop began taking shape in 1899 with a 12-story department store designed by Louis H. Sullivan, with distinctive white terra-cotta facades and elegant cast-iron ornamentation also employed in additions by other architects. The owner, Carson Pirie Scott & Co. department store, needed less and less space in the building in recent decades. The city partnered with local developer Joseph Freed and Associates LLC starting in 2001 to restore and transform the complex into a mixed-use center.
Local firm Harboe Architects converted the upper floors and a portion of the lower floors for spec office use, repairing the facades, reconstructing a missing cornice, and restoring the cast-iron storefronts. On one building, a long-hidden storefront facade designed by Sullivan was discovered beneath an outer wall. Tax increment financing from the city played a key role in the project, which was completed in 2010. Carson Pirie Scott vacated the building in 2007, but Target is set to join the office tenants in 2012.