Design Transformation in the Heart of Historic Rainey Street

On a warm and humid Friday night in May, AIA Austin members celebrated the opening of El Naranjo, an adaptive reuse project at 85 Rainey Street designed by local architect, Martin Barrera, AIA.  The joint social mixer was hosted by the Latinos in Architecture, and Emerging Professionals committees and was well attended by members and their guests.  Martin Barrera, AIA gave a brief discussion about the project, and many guests lounged in the comfortable bar for hours, while others dined in one of the two cozy dining rooms or on the shady back deck.

El Naranjo is in the heart of the Rainey Street Historic District, a Downtown Austin neighborhood defined by IH-35, Lady Bird Lake, and Cesar Chavez Street.  The neighborhood was first inhabited in the late 1800’s by white middle-class tradesman, but has long been an area in transition.  The demographics of the neighborhood began to shift toward working-class hispanic families in the 1920’s and during the 1960’s and 1970’s re-development pressure from urban renewal and municipal planning projects stirred controversy over the fate of the deteriorating houses in the Rainey Street neighborhood.  Residents and preservationists worked diligently to highlight the neighborhood’s historic value, and successfully listed the Rainey Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

85 Rainey Street was one of those historic yet deteriorating homes when Iliana de la Vega and Ernesto Torrealba, the husband and wife team behind El Naranjo, awarded the commission to Martin Barrera, AIA.  The adaptive reuse project that ensued strives to preserve and highlight the existing historic building by liberating the structure from decades of shoddy additions, careless remodels, and poor maintenance.  The interior of the historic home was transformed into open and free flowing bar, lounge, and dining spaces.  The original features of the home subtly contrast with the clean lines of the modern wood wall finishes and floating white gypsum plaster ceilings.  The addition to the rear of the property houses the commercial kitchen and other high-impact wet areas.  In contrast to the historic home, the addition is constructed of a combination of single-wythe, stack-bond cmu, aluminum storefront, and cantilevered wood soffits.  The effect is a tastefully transformed structure that is respectful of the surrounding historic district, yet meets the harsh programmatic requirements of the modern restaurant.