New Life For Old Spaces

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Upcycling former factories, garages and even airplane hangars isn’t just green — it’s smart and beautiful, too.

Recycling is not just for bottles, cans and paper anymore. Repurposing old buildings for new purposes — sometimes called “upcycling” — has become increasingly popular. As architect Carl Elefante once pointed out, “The greenest building is the one that’s already built.”



As well as their eco-appeal, many of these structures have beautiful details, like brick walls and multi-paned windows. And then there’s the rich patina that only years of wear and history can give a place. It’s no wonder that these spaces are coveted spots for renovating into live/work lofts, event spaces, restaurants, even parks.


In Los Angeles, former factories like The Brewery, the former site of the Pabst Blue Ribbon facility, have been converted into trendy apartments. Garages and mechanics’ shops are ideal for renovation; witness Culver City’s Smog Shoppe and garden store Rolling Greens. San Francisco’s old Ferry Building is now the site of the city’s most popular farmers market.


For businesses that require large spaces to accommodate their equipment, old industrial buildings are ideal. The former Alameda Naval Station, where Hangar 1 Vodka is made, has attracted so many distillers it’s been nicknamed “Spirits Row.” Hangar 1’s space, built in 1941 and left idle for many years, is now beginning to hum with activity. The giant polished copper still, used to distill the grapes and grains that give the clear spirit its distinctive flavor, presides over the cavernous room.


Master Distiller Caley Shoemaker loves the bow-trussed ceiling and the natural light that floods the space through the hangar’s many windows. She’s also a big fan of the space’s setting.


“We’re right on the edge of the naval base. From my office there’s a beautiful view of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge.” Birds are the biggest noisemakers here. “The tarmac has been turned into a wildlife preserve,” Shoemaker says, “and there’s a cool community of people who bike around, tasting the local Alameda flavor.”


Justifiably proud of their space and their product, the Hangar 1 folks are excited to open the doors of their distillery for tours and tastings soon.


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