The sameness of many American cities is pretty uninspiring. We need places with character—places with special features that differentiate one place from all the others. Historical elements, including distinctive buildings and symbols, are socially significant touchstones in communities. They’re fundamental to the identity and character of a place; they make it unique and connect us with our past. They provide people with a sense of identity, history and context for their own role in their community’s story. Iconic elements act as landmarks for people outside the area, making it easier for them to find and engage in the community.
The historic, 100-foot tall brewhouse smokestack in the Brewery Blocks was the ultimate test of our resolve to preserve a historic icon. It was originally constructed of un-reinforced masonry, and its height, location and diameter (about eight feet at the base) made a seismic upgrade near impossible. We spent months evaluating strategies to save it. In the end, we carefully reinforced the smokestack with steel piles drilled into the new concrete at its base and 20-foot long sections of steel pipe were placed inside the smokestack from a tower crane. Seven hundred fifty thousand dollars later, the smokestack is a symbol of what the property was, historically, as well as what it has become: a vibrant community of restaurants, shops, offices and homes.
Preserving historic, iconic elements is not always economically feasible or practical, and sometimes it is simply impossible. But if the element in question—a brewhouse smokestack, a historic armory—is socially significant to the neighborhood or community, we strive to preserve it. Experience has taught us that this requires innovative solutions, collaboration with experts, community support and nimbleness in order to be successful. But in the end, the community wins.