CHICAGO -- For 78 years, the six terra cotta warehouses that made up this city's South Water Market served as a starting point for the fresh fruits and vegetables that ended up in restaurants and groceries.
Today, those same buildings are more of a final destination for apples, bananas, lettuce, celery, carrots and other produce.
Once the hub of Chicago's wholesale produce industry, the six warehouses now house condominiums -- 917 of them in a redevelopment known as University Commons. Fruits and vegetables that at one time were loaded into trucks at the market for delivery throughout the Windy City now are served up for breakfast, lunch or dinner in one-, two- or three-bedroom condos.
The warehouses are similar in vein to the Strip District's Pennsylvania Railroad Fruit Auction & Sales Building, or produce terminal, that is targeted for redevelopment by the Buncher Co.
But while Buncher plans to demolish a third of the Pittsburgh terminal and use the rest for retail and office space, the Enterprise Cos., a Chicago developer, found residential to be a perfect fit for the old warehouses.
"It's right in our wheelhouse. That's exactly what we did for a long period of time -- renovate and recycle different types of products into residential housing," said Ron Shipka Sr., an Enterprise Cos. partner.
The Chicago warehouses became available when the wholesale produce vendors who hawked fruits and vegetables from the location moved in 2002 to the new Chicago International Produce Market about 2 miles away. By that time, the South Water Market had become overcrowded and outdated.
In July 2003, the city planning commission approved the reuse proposed by Enterprise -- the only one of the developers that bid on the warehouses that promised not to tear them down.
Instead of bidders being identified by company name in the sale, each was given the name of a vegetable. Mr. Shipka still remembers his -- broccoli.
The conversion cost $150 million to $200 million and was done in phases, starting in 2004 and ending in 2007, when the last residents moved in. Enterprise reconditioned and restored the warehouses' handsome terra cotta facades and used the buildings' original pillars and floors in the reconstruction.
"It was a wonderful, wonderful opportunity to give a little back to the city and save something that every other developer that bid on this project was going to demolish and build townhouses on," Mr. Shipka said.
Enterprise got the South Water Market listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Buyers also were able to take advantage of a program that provided for reduced property taxes the first 11 years they owned the condos.
Enterprise sold the units from less than $255,000 at the low end to more than $350,000 at the high end. There are 128 to 196 units in each of the buildings -- each of the old produce bays equals about a condo and a half. The condos range in size from 860 square feet to more than 1,000 square feet. The complex also includes a swimming pool and a theater room. Each building has a fitness center and rec room.
"It's been incredibly successful," Mr. Shipka said. "We sold out everything."
With the recession and the collapse of the housing market several years ago, condos are now selling anywhere from $160,000 at the low end to $300,000 at the high.
But occupancy is still high. Tina Stochmal, assistant property manager for DK Condo, which manages the property, said all of the condos are occupied except for a dozen bank-owned units.
Residents range from young families to retirees to college students. The University of Illinois at Chicago is a few minutes from the complex.
"It's a very diverse group of people," Ms. Stochmal said.
Converting the Strip District produce terminal into condos or apartments doesn't appear to be an option for the Buncher Co., even though it is planning residential units around the building.
Buncher president Tom Balestrieri said converting the Pittsburgh terminal to residential uses was "ruled out early on." He indicated the units probably would have been no more than 500 square feet in size -- "not my cup of tea," as he put it.
Another warehouse-type building, though not a produce terminal, that is experiencing new life is the Ferry Building in San Francisco.
Built in 1898, the elegant sandstone Beaux Arts building with a 245-foot-high clock tower, served as a hub for major cable car and ferry lines for decades. Passengers entering the building were greeted by the "Grand Nave" -- a 660-foot-long hall featuring terra cotta detailing, a single continuous skylight and exposed steel trusses.
The building lost much of its mission with the construction of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges. Construction of the Embarcadero Freeway in 1957 separated the building from downtown. The structure fell into disrepair, with much of the Grand Nave used for office space.
The tide changed after the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. The freeway, heavily damaged by the earthquake, was demolished, removing the barrier that separated the Ferry Building from the city.
A $110 million rehab completed in 2003 restored the grandeur of the building and the Grand Nave. The Ferry Building now is a mix of office space and eclectic retail.
Visitors can browse shops like Prather Ranch Meat Co., which sells fresh meat and a T-shirt that reads, "Praise the Lard"; Far West Fungi Quality Mushroom Products, where some mushrooms go for $28 an ounce; Stonehouse California Olive Oil, with its many flavored olive oils; Boccalone Salumeria, which advertises "tasty salted pig parts" like rolled pig's head with garlic and herbs and specializes in Italian cured meats; and Kingdom of Herbs.
And, yes, you can still catch a ferry behind the building.
Mark Belko: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1262.