Hennebery Eddy Designs Adaptive Reuse of 1911 Building into Hip KEX Hotel

By Hennebery Eddy

adaptive reuse
The Vivian Apartments, historically known as the Alco Apartments, constructed in 1912. Image courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society.

At one of the most trafficked corners in Portland – the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Couch, just past the Burnside bridgehead – sits a three-story, wood-framed structure with a brick exterior. The building has anchored this spot for more than 100 years, but only recently has it become a destination. With much fanfare, the KEX hotel opened here in November 2019, offering a unique experience that was many years in the making.

Hennebery Eddy designed the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of this historic building, which formerly housed The Vivian apartments, into a hostel with a ground-floor gastropub for the Icelandic brand KEX and local restaurant group ChefStable. Guest rooms on the second and third floors offer a variety of private and shared accommodations, while the open ground floor hosts casual dining and a constant stream of musical acts — a key focus of the KEX model. The hostel also features a courtyard with exterior seating and a stunning red neon sign, a rooftop bar and a community gathering room – Gym & Tonic – and conveniences for travelers like a sauna, shared kitchen and laundry rooms, and bike storage.

Beyond these amenities and the impressive concert calendar, KEX offers visitors an authentically preserved social space carefully balanced with the artistic flair of the KEX style. Hennebery Eddy first researched and prepared an Historic Resource Evaluation, followed by a successful nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Though at that time The Vivian was not in the shape it is today, many of its character-defining features remained, including the exterior brick and concrete detailing, original cornice and entry canopy, and interior corridors. We secured federal historic tax credits for the building’s overhaul, which complies with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards to preserve these original features and be historically compatible.

Our rehabilitation included façade improvements and select masonry restoration, a seismic retrofit, and energy-efficiency upgrades. We worked with contractor R&H Construction to preserve classical details like the historic corridor trim, original courtyard windows, and woodwork in the historic stair, while also updating the building to meet current codes and the demands of a modern guesthouse. A big draw of the hotel – the rooftop bar, set to open in 2020 – had to be carefully designed for approval by the National Park Service as part of the historic review process. Hennebery Eddy’s thoughtful stewardship of the building’s historic integrity allows travelers to step back in time while also indulging in the avant-garde touches curated by the KEX artists and craftsmen.

Seeing the hotel open to rave reviews is an exciting moment for the project team and culmination of many years’ work. Hennebery Eddy first began working on the site in 2012, helping the former property owners explore options for its rehabilitation before it was ultimately sold to Green Light Development. In the meantime, we completed the adaptive reuse of the adjoining properties on the block into mixed-use retail anchored by the much-loved Cup & Bar cafe. With the addition of KEX, this block bustles with activity in a way Portlanders could not have imagined as they drove past in their Model Ts back in 1911.