U-Haul has an interesting history. After getting its start renting trailers at service stations, the company went on a rent-everything blitz in the 1980s. While you can no longer rent movies from U-Haul, its self-storage business remains strong. Should you choose to…self-store with the company, you may find yourself locking your junk in a cool old building.
Through adaptive reuse — repurposing a building for a use different from what it was originally built for — U-Haul takes old and run-down historic buildings, renovates them and stuffs them full of storage units.
In Portland, Maine, U-Haul retrofitted the Portland Motor Sales Ford dealership. According to U-Haul, when it opened in 1963, the dealership was the largest Ford dealership in Maine.
The dealership sold Falcons, Galaxies, Fairlanes and Thunderbirds from under its midcentury modern roofline. U-Haul acquired the building in 2002 and turned it into a storage and rental center. The site Portland Landmarks notes that the former dealership isn’t designated a landmark and isn’t on the National Register of Historic Places. U-Haul’s usage of it is likely the only reason it hasn’t been demolished.
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In the Chicagoland area, U-Haul bought a building originally used by the Mills Novelty Company as a factory and administration building.
The company’s founder, Mortimer Birdsul Mills, was awarded a patent for an improvement to the coin-operated vending machine. The company produced said machines and later, slot machines and jukeboxes. It appears Al Capone used the building for some purposes as well.
The rental company purchased the building in 1999, opening it in 2002 as the Fortress of Logan Square U-Haul Storage Center. The restoration is period-correct and even features a bank-style showroom.
U-Haul’s efforts in Detroit follow a similar theme. National Biscuit Company — Nabisco, today — abandoned its former home in the Motor City.
U-Haul took the building, and like the aforementioned Logan Square facility, restored it, turning it into a giant storage facility. It did the same to a former Detroit K-Mart location as well.
U-Haul says the practice is pretty green. Here are the stats for the former National Biscuit Company headquarters:
Serving U-Haul customers since 2012, this facility was built through Adaptive Reuse of an abandoned building to help revitalize the city of Detroit. Adaptive Reuse promotes infill development in an effort to strengthen communities, with the following benefits achieved at this site:
- 83 tons of metal manufacturing & transportation prevented
- 81,144.7 tons of new concrete pours avoided
- 81,558.6 tons of construction and demolition debris prevented
Energy-efficiency and waste-reduction programs at this facility provide the following estimated benefits each year for this Detroit community:
- 151,576 gallons annual rainwater runoff avoided
- 33,352,748 lbs greenhouse gas emissions prevented
I think the practice is pretty cool. It takes a lot of resources to build an entirely new structure, when sometimes existing buildings can be adapted for a new use. U-Haul goes the extra mile by restoring the exteriors of these buildings, preserving them.
So the next time you find yourself renting a U-Haul and notice the building looks really old, chances are there’s some history in there. Look for a plaque inside the building explaining it!
Check out this rabbit hole of a Twitter thread on all of the buildings U-Haul has restored.