Success Story Part 2: Converting a Historical Restaurant Into The Greenhouse Dispensary
Part 1 of our Success Story focused on the historical journey of the restaurant bar that became the focal point of the Greenhouse Dispensary in Morris, Illinois. The story continues below, detailing how Cannabis Facility Construction fulfilled The Greenhouse’s vision of converting the Rockwell Inn into a dispensary, while honoring the restaurant’s legacy as a source of community pride.
Not a Traditional Design-build Project
Converting a restaurant into a dispensary presented many challenges, including:
Earning the Trust of the Community
One of the biggest questions we faced was: How do we create the optimal retail space that is focused on the client while preserving the history of the old space? For us, a true partnership revolves around the trust and buy-in from all stakeholders. We were sensitive to the fact that we were introducing a new industry and purveyor to this jurisdiction. Showing respect for the community helped us achieve the buy-in we needed.
Wear and Tear
Given the age of the restaurant facility and its use, it was hardly in the same condition as buildings we previously worked with. For starters, it was a large, free-standing property with multiple additions created throughout its history. Some areas had concrete floors and others, wood floor joists. Often we’d encounter rotted wood and other material deterioration. Compared to a retail space, restaurants have unique issues like grease, dirt, and rodents that we don’t encounter when remodeling, for example, a clothing store inside of a strip mall.
We determined that the lot sat below street level, and consequently, the sewage had not been pumped into a lift station. We discovered that over the years, the restaurant only had band aids in place to address the problem.
Reclaiming the 150 Year-Old Bar
We had to figure out how to make this beautiful, legendary bar functional for staff and valuable to the customer experience. It now serves as the centerpiece of an open and comfortable space where visitors interact with budtenders and learn about the products.
Leveraging Our Trade Partners
We used a talented group of trades and suppliers to complete the project. Across the board–from plumbers, electricians, and millworkers to heating, flooring, life safety, HVAC, security and sprinkler system specialists – our trusted partners played key roles in the renovation.
It All Comes Together
The result of our renovation is 5,200 square feet of usable space, outfitted with an inviting waiting area and an open and comfortable shop with the reclaimed bar as its hub. Understanding, learning, and operating in buildings that are 50-150 years-old is where we cut our teeth. The whole idea of opening up walls, making discoveries, and maximizing value for our clients is what we live for. We’ll give the last word to Mitch Kahn, CEO and founder of Grassroots, a national leader in medicinal cannabis, and the parent company of Greenhouse: “It really is just a neat building with character that we wanted to keep, from the tin ceiling to the bar that’s over 100 years old, and retrofit it to our purposes. We saw the promise of remodeling an old building and turning it into a modern facility.”
Success Story Part 1: A Bar’s Origin and Journey
If a bar’s walls could talk, you could imagine the stories it would tell. The secrets, truths, tales, and a mix of all three from patrons, bartenders, cooks, and other staff remain trapped under layers of paint, trying to escape unsuccessfully through the cracks. But every now and then, there’s a special bar with a classic design, heft, and durability that embarks on an epic journey. It’s the kind of bar you see once in 125 years, about to celebrate its Quasquicentennial. It doesn’t need to rely on walls to tell stories because the bar is the story.
This bar’s story is told in four acts, beginning in the big city of Chicago in the late 19th Century and continuing down-state to this very day.
Act 1: The Origin
When you consider the bar’s roots, it makes sense that it was destined for longevity. Anheuser Busch Co. commissioned the bar in 1882, which was designed and built by Brunswick Balke-Collender. The TIMES-PRESS of Streator, IL, described it as, “…a splendid oak and brass structure with intricately carved detailing that measured 14 feet high by 30 feet long and featured 13 electrified gas lights with three sections of mirror and colonnades. The front bar had a copper foot rail and a marble base.”
Anheuser Busch was impressed enough to display the bar at The World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 where it resided in the company’s pavilion for the Fair’s year-long run. When the Fair concluded, sponsors of the exhibits sold displays and showpieces. A barkeep by the name of John Trapp purchased the bar and had it transported by Anheuser Busch’s famed Clydesdale horses some 100 miles away to the small industrial town of Streator and placed in his saloon, Trapp’s Tavern.
It’s the kind of bar you see once in 125 years, about to celebrate its Quasquicentennial. It doesn’t need to rely on walls to tell stories because the bar is the story.
Act 2: Trapped
At the time, Streator had a prolific coal and manufacturing industry and was known as a midwestern railroad hub. Business was good at Trapp’s Tavern, located on Main Street, and the new bar, fresh off it’s run at The World’s Fair, attracted many patrons. According to the TIME-PRESS, the one beer served was Anheuser Busch, and one story reports the kitchen cooked only roast beef sandwiches, while another adds navy bean and chicken noodle soups, and ham sandwiches. Every account, though, notes, “One of the pieces Trapp purchased with the bar was a ‘women’s room’, which was a 15-foot by 15-foot oak and glass walled cubicle where women sat waiting until their men had their fill in the saloon.”
Act 3: Moving Inn
After an 82-year run, the legendary Trapp’s Tavern went out of business, but the allure of the bar grew stronger. Much like the previous century all those decades ago, a new face purchased the bar and gave it a new home. On June 27, 1976, Victor Anderes of Peru, Illinois bought the bar at auction for $26,000. Trapp’s Tavern and the renowned bar went out in style, as an estimated crowd of 200 people from as far as California, Colorado, and Florida gathered for the event. Anderes, a restaurateur, moved the bar to his new business, the Rockwell Inn in Morris, Illinois, 38 miles to the north east.
Recognized more than ever as a marvel of craftsmanship and utility, the bar was installed as the focal point of the new space. Anderes paid homage to its history, naming the room it resided in “The Columbian Exposition Lounge”, while defiantly renaming the former “Women’s Room” the “Not for Women Only” room. The bar even survived a major fire in 1985 because it was somehow shielded from the flames by the tin ceiling that collapsed on it.
Act 4: Greener Pastures
In 2013, the Rockwell Inn shuttered its doors, presumably ending the bar’s intrastate historical journey. This time there were no post-World’s Fair buyers or auctioneers, bidders, or Clydesdales to move the bar to its new home. Finally, the bar had succumbed to its final chapter.
Or so the city of Morris thought.
The forces of change, innovation, entrepreneurship, and nostalgia are powerful enough to revitalize a relic. On August 1, 2013, Illinois enacted the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act. In 2014, Chicagoland-based Grassroots Cannabis launched and soon engaged Cannabis Facility Construction to design-build its new Greenhouse dispensary in Morris, using an existing space once called the Rockwell Inn. Converting an old restaurant into a medical cannabis dispensary would present many challenges, but one thing was crystal clear: that sleeping, history-weary bar would make its greatest comeback yet.
Read More: Success Story Part 2: Converting a Historical Restaurant into the Greenhouse Dispensary
McCullough, D. (1987) ‘World’s Fair flavor found in old bar furniture’, TIMES-PRESS, Streator, 29 July
(1983) ‘Main Street Trapp’s has long history in Streator’, TIMES-PRESS, Streator, 12 May
(1976) ‘Purchases Trapp’s Bar For $26,000’, TIMES-PRESS, Streator, 28 June