At the turn of the century, when Craig Demarco’s trendsetting Postino Wine Bar began construction, much of the buzz was about how he and his company were actually troubling to salvage what they could of Phoenix’s old Arcadia post office to create their new café.
Instead of knocking down the old structure and starting anew, Demarco had the vision to retain that bit of Arcadia neighborhood history and, using what he could of the old post office, turn it into a conceptual backdrop for the hip new haunt. Thus, the postal station’s loading dock became a cozy, al fresco patio for patrons and its massive garage doors a means of opening up the space to create an indoor/outdoor ambiance for the restaurant.
It wasn’t an entirely new concept. San Francisco’s 1964 renovation of Ghiradelli Square is often cited as the first such project in the United Sates, and Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace is another notable one. But it was one of the first times a Phoenix-based developer and entrepreneur actively promoted the idea of reclaiming a bit of local history to use it as the foundation for something new.
So began “adaptive reuse” in the Valley.
More than a decade later, Phoenix and other cities and towns throughout the state are alive with adaptive redevelopment projects that celebrate and preserve these localities’ historical and cultural underpinnings.
One of them, The Newton, is a 17,000-square-foot commercial, mixed-use space on the site of the legendary (and long-shuttered) Beef Eaters Restaurant in Phoenix. The restaurant opened its doors in 1961 and quickly became an ultra-popular hub for dining, drinking and all things convivial. In its 45-year run, the eatery enjoyed a reputation as one of Phoenix’s flagship gathering places, a symbol of the city’s warmth and hospitality for visitors and locals alike.
Commemorating that sentiment, The Newton aspires to “honor the neighborhood’s roots while serving as a creative and inspired gathering place for today’s community.” Since it opened this past May, the development has become home to the restaurant Southern Rail, a new iteration of Tempe’s legendary Changing Hands Bookstore, gardening supply shop Southwest Gardner, as well as other retailers.
The Newton is also interesting because—with its Southern Rail on the premises—it is an example of adaptive reuse that essentially transforms an old, hallowed restaurant into a popular new one. As much of the original space was retained in the reconstruction as possible, including the old restaurant’s four massive fireplaces that are now focal points of the new businesses under its roof.
Lorenzo Perez, principal of Venue Projects, the Phoenix redevelopment firm that purchased the Beef Eaters building and created The Newton, also happens to have been involved in the design and construction of many of Craig Demarco’s restaurant reuse projects.
“It was a sign of the times,” Perez says, of his entrée into adaptive reuse. “Phoenix has an abundant collection of mid-century, masonry buildings—pretty simple boxes that were starting to show their age. I just thought that with the desire for sustainability and, as Craig Demarco calls it, creating ‘soulful buildings and experiences,’ there was a huge market opportunity. We chose to focus on it and it’s worked out really well.”