Adaptive Reuse: Hip now; happening in the 'hood for decades

May 4, 2010


(photo by Lee Bey)

A few months ago, I watched an architecture jury lavish praise on an out-of-town adaptive reuse project that turned an old factory into residences.

"Adaptive reuse" has been a hot term in architecture circles for a while now, even more so among the green element of the field. But recycling a building is old hat in the 'hood, where structures built for one purpose have had to morph into other uses, sometimes out of financial necessity. For decade after decade on the South and West sides, banks routinely become funeral homes; restaurants become medical offices, car dealerships become churches, and so on.The historic former Chicago Defender Building at 35th and Indiana was once a synagogue.

A currency exchange at 111th and Michigan was first a Chicken Unlimited franchise. The ornate Egyptian/Art Deco Laramie State Bank at the intersection of Austin and Laramie bank was preserved and re-purposed into a vertical shopping mall. And--as in the photo above shows--the one-time Cottage Grove State Bank at 75th and Cottage Grove (built in 1923 but closed during the Great Depression) would later find lasting life as St. John Church of God in Christ.

The bank was turned into a church preserving its Indiana limestone exterior and all of its architectural details. The entrance was also kept intact. The stained glass cross built into the arched window above the front door is a nice touch. The two simple wings added to each side don't visually overpower the structure.

Many of these reuses are clever. Among my favorites:


(photo by Lee Bey)

The church above was a Red Barn restaurant at 90th and Ashland. Remember Red Barn? The franchise was born in the 1960s and basically died out around 1980, leaving these barn-like restaurants dotting the national landscape...and its old commercials on youtube.

So its time to notice these projects a little more and help them find a place within the architecture/preservation/green discussion. The congregations and businesspeople behind these reused buildings have something to contribute to the debate--and would also benefit from being part of it.

And with this cross-pollination of ideas and approaches, who knows? The architecture jury that liked the factory-to-residences conversion might just flip if they saw, say, Greater Canaan Missionary Baptist Church near 119th and State. That building was a Jewel food store until it got converted (or should I say "adaptively reused")‚  into a church --nearly 30 years ago.