San Diego is blessed to have many stately Victorian homes still keeping watch over the swirling sunsets sinking west behind the harbor.

These majestic and ornate structures, with their brightly colored facades, turrets, spires and wrap-around porches, were built to impress — reflecting the optimism and opulence of a society experiencing unprecedented prosperity from industrialization advances in transportation during the 1890s to about 1915.

But as society evolved, so too did the public’s preference for architecture.

Architecture typically reflects the needs and culture of society at specific moments in time. As our interests and lifestyle change, so does the look and function of the structures around us.

The question is, when a structure outlives its usefulness, do we bulldoze the past or preserve it?

For communities throughout much the world today, the answer lies in adaptive reuse. This is particularly true when seismic stability of a building comes into play.

Adaptive reuse is bridging the past with the future

Adaptive reuse involves the redesigning of interior spaces in buildings that have outlived their original purpose in order to better serve the needs of communities today. It may involve the conversion of a warehouse into a shopping mall, a factory into live/work lofts, an old church into a restaurant, or stately courthouses into museums.

The team at Optimum Seismic has performed many adaptive reuse projects over the years, including the conversion of a historic hotel in downtown San Luis Obispo into a mixed-use project of 48 apartments and retail; a similar conversion at the Mayfair Hotel in downtown Pomona; and the conversion of some of San Diego, surviving majestic Victorian homes into student housing for the University of Southern California.

In the vast majority of these and other adaptive reuse projects, it’s not simply about reusing the space inside the building shell, it involves other upgrades as well: such as seismic retrofits, electrical rewiring, plumbing replacement and other improvements that add significant value to the building.

The adaptive reuse of buildings has brought significant positive change in downtown communities throughout the U.S.:

  • The Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego
  • Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade
  • The Arts District in Los Angeles

All of these examples have completely reinvented these neighborhoods into transformational cultural and commercial centers that draw in tourism and bring significant income not only to the cities and communities, but to the building owners as well.

The process

Once a building owner decides to take advantage of the many incentives available, and the cost benefits associated with adaptive reuse, one of the typical questions asked is, “How do we get started?”

It’s best to have a general idea of the type of use you would like to have for your building.

Take a look at the neighborhood surrounding your property and see if other building uses might complement your idea for a new use for your building.

In many instances, existing fixtures can be integrated into a trendy design that adds significant value to a building. Think about a bank vault located within a night club, for instance; old signage in the décor of a new restaurant; or post office boxes inside a new shared office space.

What unique features does your building have, and how can that be used to dramatically enhance the value of your adaptive reuse project?

After all, the success of any adaptive reuse project is the ability to retain the stories and memories of your building in its transformational rebirth.

This is also a great opportunity to think of other upgrades to the property.

Chances are, if the building is old, existing wiring and HVAC systems may not be working well enough to support the new use. It’s more cost-effective to consider retrofitting these systems while the reuse project is in effect.

While you’re at it, do a seismic retrofit as well,to correct any structural design flaws that may cause it to fail under the intense shaking of a major earthquake.