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Rebecca Howes

The Design Challenges and Successes of the Adaptive Reuse of Buildings for Restaurants, Featuring Case Studies

           Restaurants can be a very lucrative business.  They come in different cuisines, markets, sizes, and buildings.  There is no sure way to know if a restaurant will be successful or not before taking on the venture.  Adaptively reusing a structure can help create a character and charm for a restaurant.

            There are different approaches to adaptively reusing a building.  Some historic buildings are completely gutted, leaving only the shell of the building.  Others are only partially gutted.  There are also some buildings whose interiors and exteriors are left mostly intact.  Former residential, commercial, and retail spaces are all viable options. 

            Adaptively reusing an historic building for a restaurant in a run down area can bring life back to a town if the restaurant is successful.  Restaurants bring people and people bring with them certain needs.

            There are certain challenges that face any entrepreneur who wants to open a restaurant.  When using an historic building, there can be various challenges for different owners in different parts of the country.  There can be incentives to adaptively reusing an historic building, incentives that aren’t only visual, but also financial, like tax incentives.  A certain amount of upkeep is required in owning an historic building,, but it makes up for it in the money that is saved in using an historic building instead of starting from scratch.

            This thesis will talk about why adaptively reusing historic buildings is a good investment.  It will look at the different design processes of sensitively designing around an existing historic space, and using an historic building as a cavity.  It will also look at a variety of case studies: it will look at the Chicago-land area and compare it other cities around the nation, like Charleston, South Carolina.  Two restaurants in Charleston will be looked at with the interior walls still intact, the Cru Café and Poogan’s Porch.  The owners of these restaurants do not see it as a challenge to work with historic buildings and interior walls, but embrace this.  There will be a number of restaurants in the Chicago-land area with intact historic walls that will also be looked at.  There are two restaurants in the Chicago-land area that will be looked at: Emett’s in West Dundee and Tallgrass in Lockport.  There will also be a couple restaurants that have had gutted interiors or blank slates that will be looked at, including Walter Payton’s Roundhouse Complex in Aurora, Illinois.

           Rebecca Howes received her BA in History with a minor in Marketing from Bradley University.  Prior to attending SAIC, she had an internship with the Chicago Historical Society working in the Collections Department on the sheet work collection.  She had internships with the Evanston Historical Society and as a curatorial assistant, and took a class in Charleston, South Carolina, dealing with the land preservation of a freedmen’s community. 


Thesis Advisor: Rolf Achilles, Adjunct Associate Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism; Historic Preservation

Thesis Reader: Jim Peters, Instructor, Historic Preservation; Director, Preservation Planning, Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois




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