Transforming the Past: Historical and Adaptive Reuse Buildings


Historical and adaptive reuse buildings can help preserve a community’s cultural heritage. In some cities and towns, especially in the Pacific Northwest, there are regulations to prevent culturally significant buildings from being demolished and replaced with newer complexes or parking lots. While preserving the past and embracing the future, historical and adaptive use buildings offer a unique blend of nostalgia and innovation. In this post, we will delve into the power and purpose of transforming these significant projects into long-term investments and explore the definitions, rules, and regulations that govern their renovation.


Historical Buildings

Also referred to as heritage buildings, are architectural gems that have stood the test of time. These structures carry historical, cultural, or architectural significance, and their preservation is important to maintaining a connection with our past.

Adaptive Reuse Buildings

Existing structures that have been creatively repurposed for a different function. Instead of tearing down these buildings, they are adapted to serve modern needs while retaining their historical value.

Considerations for Salvaging Existing Buildings

There are many cost-effective reasons as to why an owner or developer may choose to adapt or reuse a space. Demolition of buildings is costly, and not always permitted. New buildings often take longer to construct, while in comparison some existing spaces can remain habitable while construction is on-going.

Preserving historical and adaptive use buildings requires adherence to specific rules and regulations. These guidelines are in place to ensure that the integrity and historical value of these structures are not compromised during restoration or repurposing.

In many jurisdictions, obtaining permits and complying with building codes is required. Historical preservation societies may also have their own set of guidelines that must be followed.

In the Portland Metro area, there are specific zoning regulations regarding historical buildings:

“Historic resources are subject to land use regulations provided by Portland Zoning Code Chapter 33.445, Historic Resource Overlay Zone. The regulations apply to certain alteration, addition, new construction, demolition, and relocation proposals affecting historic resources.”

When assessing whether a prospective building can be preserved or adapted to suit a new business or function, there are several steps to take to ensure that the project will be a success. Here are four vital steps to guide you through the process:

1. Site Assessment

Before diving into any restoration or repurposing project, it is crucial to thoroughly assess the condition of the building. This assessment includes evaluating the structure, identifying damages or weaknesses, and determining potential for adaptation. By conducting a comprehensive site assessment, you can gain valuable insights into the feasibility and scope of the project.

2. Get an Estimate

Once the site assessment is complete, it is important to obtain accurate cost estimates for the project. This includes factoring in expenses for repairs, permits, renovations, and any necessary modifications for the new use. Obtaining estimates from experienced contractors  will help you develop a realistic budget and avoid any financial surprises along the way.

3. Hire Reputable Professionals

To ensure a successful historical or adaptive use building project, hiring reputable professionals with experience in restoration and adaptive reuse is crucial. Architects, contractors, and consultants with knowledge of historical preservation will help you navigate the various regulations and bring creativity to the table, ensuring that the building’s historical value is preserved while meeting modern requirements.

4. Finalize Plans and Build

After conducting site assessments, obtaining estimates, and assembling a trustworthy team, it is time to finalize plans and begin the building process. A careful balance must be struck between preserving the historical elements of the building and incorporating modern design and functionality. By working closely with your team of professionals, you can bring your vision to life while still honoring the building’s unique heritage.

Examples of Renovation and Adaptive Reuse

Tomorrow Theatre | Portland, OR

Consisting of nearly 9,000 square feet, this Special Projects Group renovation is substantially complete and scheduled to open in late fall 2023. The theater was built in 1925 and was originally a vaudeville space which has gone through many changes over time. It once hosted art house films, Spanish-language films, and most recently, was known as the Oregon Theater.

The project includes some unique and artfully selected features such as blue marble countertops, a mirrored feature wall, and new custom seating. The space also pays homage to the past by displaying the original Oregon Theatre sign and utilizing the original seatback chairs as an art installation backdrop on an interior feature wall.

Since the original building was constructed with hollow clay tiles, some design choices had to be revised-such as anchoring certain features to the walls. This newly revitalized space will serve as a venue for multimedia storytelling and as a creative center for Portland Art Museum’s PAM CUT.

Boyland Kia | Portland, OR

The original structure was built approximately in 1974 before being remodeled in 1994 to become a Jaguar Land Rover Dealership. Over time, the building became vacant and dilapidated. This full renovation included demolishing of the original interior, and adding new windows that were cut in to brighten the space. New additions included service drive canopies and customer entry points.

The project included combining new construction materials and matching original ornamental features such as textured exterior walls, re-building the original decorative fence pillars, and some creative repairs to plumb walls and floors that had settled over the decades. The project is now complete and breathes new life into the surrounding area.

MUV Fitness | Troutdale, OR

This massive 126,500 SF space was once a Safeway Grocery store and was originally constructed in 1997. The entire interior is currently being re-built to encompass a full gym, complete with basketball courts, a sauna and hot tub, daycare center, reception area, and open workout spaces. The project highlights creativity, adaptive reuse, and the right team and resources to get the job done.

Final Thoughts

Historical and adaptive use buildings are not just remnants of the past; they are gateways to the future. By preserving the beauty and historical significance of these structures, while adapting them to meet modern needs, we are able to honor cultural heritage while embracing sustainable and innovative approaches to architecture.

Whether it’s a vacant grocery store chain repurposed into a vibrant state-of-the-art gym or a vaudeville adult theatre repurposed as a film and arts space, historical and adaptive use buildings are testaments to the harmonious blend of the past and the present. By understanding the definitions, rules, and regulations that govern their transformation, and by following a systematic approach, we can ensure that these buildings continue to captivate us for generations to come.

If your next historical project is in need of new life, contact us today.