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Buffett Place Rehab Project Wins 1st Prize

The Community wins the grande prize. Landon Bone Baker Architects won the 2014 Richard H. Dreihaus Foundation Award For Excellence in Community Design, for the unique transformation of Chicago's old Diplomat Hotel into the Fred and Pamela Buffett Place. “It’s very much a people’s award … one that celebrates the un-celebrated,” says Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin. The monetary and emotional dividends to the Lakeview community continue today. Architect, Jeff Bone's team listened carefully to concerns and desires of tenants and community stakeholders, voiced during the pre-development collaboration meetings. Sunlit space, other than sidewalks, was the most frequently heard request. So, the design called for the demolition of a single story interior structure to accommodate a creatively designed and placed indoor courtyard/common area with light entering from all possible angles. The roof top gardens are framed by skyline views, not commonly featured in affordable housing. An eyesore in recent years, the 85 year old hotel was closed for building and fire code violations. After lying vacant and declining for 5 years, one of Chicago’s best known Greystones now serves as a solid anchor for the entire community.  An engaged community, is an invested community, and neighbors from all walks of life teamed to make the life changing real estate rehab transformation happen.


The Diplomat Hotel Rehab Project Begins

rehab project Pamela Buffett & The Ribbon Cutting

While the construction start date of January 2010 or 2011 is unclear, the completion is still driving the community today. The Buffett project grew from a rare combination of creative architecture, community outreach and collaboration. While layering professional talent and involvement of the community, the surrounding neighborhood became stakeholders in a rehab project that has now improved real estate values throughout the community. This will ignite a rehab project domino effect. The shared spaces came to life through a collaboration of repurposing materials and forgotten lives. When Brinshore Development and Thresholds, Illinois’ largest nonprofit social services agency provider of mental health services to the needy, started construction, unemployed community members were hired to take part. A team of rehab experts joined the collaboration, adding their sphere of expertise wherever possible.

    • Architreasures created an art installation, while residents and community members collaborated.
    • Threshold members shared objects and brainstorms representing the meaning of "home" for the art that lines the walls.
    • Rebuilding Exchange, known for diverting building materials from landfills, salvaged wood joists from the Buffett Place rehab project to use as eye pleasing texture in wood paneling, and furniture tops.
    • Chicago Botanic Gardens helped create a rooftop garden.
    • Even Californians jumped into the exciting mix, as a San Francisco Social Enterprise constructed the steal beds.

More: Community Collaboration on the Table


Transformation Complete ~ Buffett Place Emerges

The construction completed in January, 2012. Yet, this is one rehab project that began fostering special relationships well before the construction was complete. The first residents moved in February 2014, and just as we reported earlier this year on the Pescadero Lofts in Santa Barbara, CA, protections are in place to insure that the housing and services provided therein are fair & self-sustaining. Each applicant must show proof of income that is less than 60% of the median income (less than $30,960 for a single person). Accepted residents are required to pay 30% of their monthly income in rent. Success of residents is not hindered, though. If a resident begins to make over 60% of the area’s median income, then he/she is provided the opportunity to stay in the building at the full rental price of $790 per month. The community now sees the population within, as good neighbors, who are now in a position to be positive contributors to the society who once had cause to judge them so differently.

Related: Doing Well While Doing Good

Long considered a blight to the neighborhood, the 85 year old Diplomat Hotel was a fire trap, and an eyesore to the community. Since the Buffett Place rehab project's transformation completed, he populations most likely to become homeless, now have a place to call home. Not just a hostel, but a home. Refurbished and remaining rich in history, the supportive housing of Buffet Place serves as an artistic & inspiring, beautiful quality home for over 51 people with mental illness.  Along with the furnished studio apartments, a computer lab, community rooms, a small gym and a rooftop garden. On the ground floor, two retail shops now operate, including Urban Meadows, an 1800 sq foot flower shop run by Thresholds to engage the residents, and serve as a reminder to neighbors that this is no longer a side of the street to avoid.

rehab project Before
rehab project After










Greystone History

Just like the Brownstone blocks of New York, the term “Greystones” refers to a building style, defining Chicago communities. With masonry buildings and Bedford Limestone facades, the nearly 30,000 remaining Chicago Greystones hold much history, and promise for profitable futures. Greystones became popular as the post-fire housing crisis ensued. The look of single family residences were still in demand, while accommodation to the city’s density had to be tackles as well.  The stacked apartment units of the Chicago Greystones was the best solution. One that has now, for the most part, withstood the test of time. Characteristically following identical floor plans, with the facades varying just enough to support the unique ness of each, allowed for the building methods and materials to be repeated. Greystone builders soon became romanced by the ease and convenience, while homeowners still benefit from this concept, in the cost effective refurbishing.  The basements are set just under the 4’ foot frost-line, and first floor just above the water table to reduce the risk of flooding & serve as a more imposing external appeal. As an added zoning benefit, maximum floor space calculations don’t include floor space that is located 50% below the ground level outside. So, the basement is deemed “free”, or non existent.   With the goal of creating independence and valuable contribution to society. Definitely an investment in the community, and in the preservation of a great Greystone that could have been lost to demolition due to disrepair. According to Van Calvin, a Greystone activist, engaged in the North Lawndale preservation movement, the dignified housing opportunities and preservation of history, Greystones “provide community stability.”

Read: 5 Features of High-Quality Architecture

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