So You Have a 50-Year-Old Building … Now What?

By Hennebery Eddy

Bozeman development
Bozeman's Cannery District mixed-use development is a former industrial area dating from 1917.

A Range of Design Pathways Is Available for Existing & Historic Structures

Generally, when a building hits the 50-year mark, it becomes eligible for designation as an historic structure. That’s a concept that often comes with a negative connotation among property owners, but it shouldn’t. A range of design pathways is available to these buildings — approaches that can help you sustainably maintain your building, regardless of whether it is a protected resource (and it doesn’t have to be).


Benefits of Existing Structures

You’ll often hear us quip that “the most sustainable building is the one that already exists.” Hennebery Eddy considers renovation and rehabilitation to be a high level of sustainable design because it conserves our building stock and minimizes embodied carbon. Extending the usable life of an existing building offers enormous savings in energy and raw materials while also providing an opportunity to incorporate new sustainable strategies. There is additional benefit in preserving our historical and cultural resources, which provide a link to the past and tell the unique stories of a place and its people. At their best, existing structures lend character and charm to their communities that are not easily matched.

Bozeman development
The Cannery District development celebrates Bozeman’s agrarian roots.


Benefits of Historic Designation

One option for conserving existing structures is to pursue a local or national historic designation. While regulations vary by jurisdiction, a designation may prevent demolition or damage done by non-compliant alterations, which can be helpful in protecting a property. Despite misconceptions, an historic designation does not mean a building can never be altered — in fact, Hennebery Eddy has renovated and rehabilitated dozens of designated historic properties. There may be limitations in play, though, which our team is adept at navigating. Notably, historic designation also opens the door for a property owner to pursue special grants and tax incentives that can be used to support property stewardship.

If your building is already historically designated, our in-house Historic Resources Group brings decades of experience treating properties according to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. If you’d like to seek an historic designation, we have expertise in determining eligibility and preparing nominations, drawing on our deep understanding of the character-defining features of different architectural styles and periods. In both cases, we can help you identify and pursue incentives to help your project succeed.

KEX hotel in Portland is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Benefits of No Designation

A 50-year-old building can still be treated with integrity even without an historic designation. A property owner may prefer more flexibility, depending on the location and use, or they may simply not want to spend the time and effort to nominate a building for designation. Regardless, any older building can benefit from a condition assessment, envelope and energy-efficiency upgrades, seismic retrofits, material repairs, or reconfigurations to allow for new uses while still maintaining its character and sense of place.

If your building is not designated — and you don’t want it to be — we can help with everything from creating building maintenance plans and specifying repairs to designing complete rehabilitations and adaptive reuse projects. Our teams can assist you in navigating the options and creating building-specific plans based on uses, materials, systems, and styles.

Portland’s former Federal Reserve Bank is now a commercial office building with a penthouse addition.


Find the Right Path

At the heart of historic preservation, rehabilitation, or adaptive reuse is the goal of maintaining a structure. Hennebery Eddy does not apply a one-size-fits all approach to this end goal. In fact, we’ve outlined the various pathways available to property owners for maintaining their structures. Regardless of which pathway is chosen, there can be mutual benefit to the owner and community — a balance of heritage, sustainability, and profitability.

So, your building is 50 years old … now what? Below we’ve outlined the various design pathways available for existing buildings (click for full-size PDF). Give us a call, and we’ll help you find the right path forward.