These two local architects are in the business of reviving dying buildings
Driving past the former laundry on Wells Ave., built in 1950 and standing vacant since 2006, may have brought many words to mind—decrepit, abandoned, eyesore—all likely terms found in the word bank. But artistic, modern, livable? Probably not. Unless, of course, you were delving into the creative brain waves of local developers Pamela Haberman and Kelly Rae, of HabeRae Properties.
The malnourished property, once known as Deluxe Laundry, was in need of a hefty diet of love, time and investment capital—none of which it seemed likely to be fed anytime soon. Lucky for both it and the neighborhood, HabeRae saw through the desolate to the potential.
As a stray dog chooses its new owner, the laundry got under the skin of the ambitious couple and ate away for five whole years, before the dream of it becoming their newest housing renovation could become a reality.
“It spoke to us,” Rae says, perched upon a bright orange sofa situated inside one of 10 newly remodeled artist lofts of which the building is now comprised. “I called every 90 days, over the past five years.” She slowly convinced the former property owner to sign over the building.
“It kept getting vandalized and was never able to reopen,” Rae says. “Just more graffiti and more broken windows.”
But where many would shy away from the seemingly hopeless structure, HabeRae saw fulfillment in the challenge. They used their business philosophy, that if you take an old building and spoon-feed it some life and light, the vandals will move along to the next victim.
“It’s seeing a building deteriorate that drives us,” Haberman says, while stressing their commitment to the community in which they grew up. “These old buildings that are just rotting away, they have to be resurrected and kept. Otherwise, it’s like not having your senior citizens around.”
The remodeled laundry, which had its grand opening the beginning of the month, now bears the name Dozen @ the DeLuxe, and is one of more than 100 properties HabeRae has worked its recycled craft on.
With its original brick walls cleaned (a process which took 10 days in the building’s attached art gallery alone), a 24-feet domed roof, exposed wood plank ceilings, and polished cement floors, its two-story lofts can now be called home by the residents quick enough to snatch them up. HabeRae has developed a reputation among its average tenant demographic, that being the young artist professionals seeking a unique living space. For them, the HabeRae formula is just what the doctor ordered.
“When people come in, they say, ‘Look at the cool brick, the cracks in the cement floor, the old ceiling, they don’t say, ‘Wow, look at that light fixture from Home Depot.’ That’s not what people want,” says Rae.
Six of the 10 units were rented before the grand opening, and three before the groundwork had even begun. The remaining four were claimed within 24 hours of being posted on Craigslist.
The property will also soon see the opening of a restaurant, Café DeLuxe, in Spring 2013.
The art of mixing both living spaces and functional businesses into the same redeveloped building isn’t a novelty for Haberman and Rae. By integrating other prospects into their housing structures, they aim to ensure a fresh start for the revived neighborhoods with a constant hustle and bustle.
They first saw the marriage when they undertook the reconstruction of one of their more famous properties—11 @ the FireHouse, located at Fifth and Morrill.
Completed in 2009, 11 @ the FireHouse is comprised of not only 11 living units, which still contain the original laddered firehouse sleeping lofts, but also hosts Salon 7, a trendy urban hair salon.
While the FireHouse has since gained respect among architects and artists alike, as well as having been recognized for its adaptive reuse, the building—which had a second life as a homeless shelter prior to its functional firehouse days—had many baffled in the beginning.
“People thought we were nuts,” Rae says of initially buying the property. And with the kind of shape the building was in, it’s no wonder. Neglect and a poor area of town were the least of its issues, thanks to its former life. It hadn’t been cleaned since the shelter closed.
“There were needles, human feces and trash everywhere … it was disgusting,” Haberman recalls.
While it may have been more cost efficient to let the firehouse lay in its own filth and build a new property on a fresh spot of land, as Rae says: “Where’s the fun in that?”
“It’s never been about the money. People ask us, ‘Why are you doing it?’ But we’re more concerned about bringing life to dead areas of town, and creating a cool place for people to live,” Rae says. “We’re not losing money.”
Despite the original derelict state of the firehouse, 11@ the Firehouse still doesn’t earn the spot of biggest undertaking on HabeRae’s totem pole. That belongs to 8 on Center.
Recognized for its urban infill accomplishments—the contemporary 8 on Center was the first building HaberRae designed from the ground up, replacing the space formerly occupied by the skeletal Fresco Pizza building and overrun by vagrants.
“It was the biggest in all aspects,” Rae reminisces of the 2007 project. “It cost the most and required the most amount of time … it’s very high end.”
Adding to the obstacles was Rae’s personal fight with breast cancer, for which she began treatment as soon as they broke ground on construction. It’s a battle she has since won, along with winning the fight of reclaiming Center Street as a place people can call home.
8 on Center, now the only property HabeRae has sold and doesn’t personally manage, reminded the couple they prefer to focus on adaptive reuse, for which their passion has been recognized on both a local and national scale.
In 2007, HabeRae was honored with the Mayor’s Choice Award for 8 on Center for community improvement, the City of Reno’s Green Building Award for 8 on Center’s environmentally sound project elements, and in 2009, the Historic Preservation Award for SoDo 4—four 100 year old brick houses formerly used as sleeping quarters for workers on the V&T railroad.
SoDo 4 is the prime example for another market HabeRae has down—compact living spaces.
“Small, affordable housing has been our mantra for 10 years,” says Haberman. Their interest in minimalism was first sparked by their own experience of living in a tiny one bedroom apartment downtown. “It was so liberating getting rid of stuff that didn’t fit … Then the economy went bad, and people had a need for simple and affordable.”
With the completion of Dozen @ the DeLuxe, HabeRae already has plans to further develop the property area. They may have a full plate, but their appetite is unsated.
“I don’t think we’ll ever be done.” Haberman assures. “You rest, you rust.”