Tag Archives: adaptive reuse

When You Can’t Save Everything

Where is the highest current shadow inventory? The largest concentration of vacant, abandoned, foreclosed or soon to be foreclosed properties? Not likely in a suburban cul-de-sac. We’re talking about the economically heaviest hit parts of America…in and around the urban core. No one city knows how bad it can get than Detroit, Michigan, because no one city experienced the wrath of the Great Recession with as much devastation. Now, today…no one city has pulled itself out of the ashes with as much progress, creativity, and potential. The rest of the country should be learning. It’s like a gift of prevention. It is also one that comes with making some tough and often difficult and unpopular decisions.

It’s big picture time. And unfortunately we can’t save everything. Which starts getting really hard to decide what to save and what not to save when pretty much every building in your core is of historic age. Options?

  1. Restore (within recommendations from the National Trust for Historic Preservation). This method ensures the visual representation of the building will continue to tell its historically significant story for generations to come.
  2. Rehab- Make it livable by creating investor opportunities, which often comes with the loss of some of a property’s historic attributes.
  3. Reuse- Imagine an old gas station transformed into an ice cream shop. An old Queen Anne Victorian painted in pink and purple stripes on the outside and gutted on the inside to become a dance studio for kids.
  4. Demolition

Number four is what everyone should want to avoid.  When you look at the big picture…versus demolition, the pink and purple house doesn’t sound so bad.


So how can anyone determine which gems in the giant jewelry box need to be fully protected? Here’s where we can really learn something from our friends in Detroit. I was fortunate to have the opportunity last month to go to a presentation by Emilie Evans, Detroit’s Preservation Specialist at Michigan Historic Preservation Network. Evans taught us through her own experiences, that creating an informative inventory is everything. Using trained volunteers and smart phone data collection, their network was able to determine the homes most in need of historic preservation, the rest marked for rehabilitation or reuse. Here is her article entitled “Rightsizing Conversation.”

By using proven programs such as the one Evans created, adding a dash of community support and a pinch of creativity, our country can continue on its progression towards recovery without hastily (or greedily) destroying some of the most significant examples of history and historic architecture that stands within and around our urban cores.

The Federal “Hardest Hit Fund” was created in 2010 for the purpose of using $7.6 billion in federal funds to help people in the 18 hardest hit states in the nation stay in their homes. Since that didn’t work out so well the funds are now being used to pay for demolishing homes in blighted areas.

So why are so many organizations and city leaders heralding the use of Hardest Hit Fund monies for demolition? The answer is in the potential for more money. Many areas are literally out of room to develop. In some cities these fund are being used to go beyond the removal of vacant or dangerous blight to all out eminent domain. Here’s just one story out of Charlestown, Indiana.

An emptied lot is grounds for new construction and profit. Back in the 1950s demolition, new construction, and large scale development was believed to indicate progress. This is also the same era that touted that DDT was so safe you could eat it. We’re smarter now, right?

The last and final argument in avoiding demolition – natural resources. If a building is feasibly salvageable, why destroy the natural resources already put in place then turn around and consume more natural resources to build something new? We take the time to recycle a wad of tinfoil but still don’t get it when it comes to recycling buildings.

When all options have been exhausted, sometimes a dangerous building is going to have to come down. That lot can be used for recreation, a community garden, or something else of benefit to the community. At that point – when we are taking care of the infrastructure already put in place – then, we can build more.

Past to Present Research LLC

Audrey L Elder

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 17, 2014 in Historic Preservation


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The Most Fun Mid-Century Modern Reuse Ever

Andy's Frozen Custard -- Columbia, MOWe introduced you to the newest neighbor in the historic community in our recent blog, The New Nostalgic. That Mid-Century Modern era. We open our arms, give a warm welcome, and even invite a good old fashioned block party to celebrate its acceptance among the other historic greats — Greek Revivals, Queen Annes, Craftsman, and all the other magnificent examples of architecture of the past. This lovely, newly recognized era has been lingering nearby for over half a century without a second thought to its place in history. It’s now an accepted fact that the brick ranch of the 1950s and early 1960s is hip and relevant to a new generation of homeowners. “Retro” is all the rage.

Who doesn’t love a flaring hoop skirt complete with an ironed on poodle? Ribbon adorned ponytails and rolled white cotton tees? Just imagine June Cleaver in her heels and pearls picking up her black shiny rotary phone to call Ward to ask him to pick up a couple pounds of flour on the way home. Ward hops in his Ford Fairlane and with the biggest 1950-something smile that a well-suited man can muster he heads off towards the A&P. However first he has to stop for gas. Yeah, you can see it. A rounded glass-walled Phillips 66, with a roof on it that resembles a space ship. Some overly mannered young man just waiting to clean the windows while the car fills with gas.

In our last blog, we created a great list of places worth saving. Some of them surprising, it’s the reuse part that really gets fun. Right here in Missouri we have some of the most fantastic examples of Mid Century Modern gas station reuse. Some of them only exist today because of dedicated grass roots movements to keep them from demolition. No, they are no longer a fuel stop, they have become way more fun! Ice cream shops, café’s and BBQ joints, just to name a few.

Next time you’re out and about be sure to stop by one of these former pit stops for a snack stop!

The Filling Station BBQ — Lee’s Summit, MO

Andy’s Frozen Custard — Columbia, MO

Starbucks — St. Louis, MO

We would love to hear from you! What would you do with a blast from the past filling station?

Next…Schools. How learning theories and the political environment affected design and what are we doing with our empty past homes of education.

Audrey Elder

Past to Present Research, LLC

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 15, 2014 in Historic Preservation


Tags: , , , ,