Adaptive Reuse Illinois

Old KFCs Are Buildings Too

by Michael R. Allen

My wish for the New Year is simple: Let no vital structure go vacant or get demolished.

Shown above is one of the countless road side examples of the infinite adaptability of even the ugliest American buildings. The La Gondola Restaurant at 2855 North Water Street in Decatur, Illinois is located in a former Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. La Gondola’s rehab of the iconic fast food building consisted of new signage and repainting. Removal of the bucket of chicken was not on the agenda, and thus La Gondola has what may be the nation’s only bucket of spaghetti sign.

I write “may” because the excellent website Not Fooling Anybody shows us that La Gondola’s rehab of an old KFC is in the middle of fast food conversions, which range from inconspicuous total cover-up to oddities like the chiropractic office that retains a KFC bucket sign.

La Gondola is no stranger to converting fast food buildings: the La Gondola Restaurant in Galesburg is located in a converted Mr. Quick Hamburgers restaurant. La Gondola is a central Illinois chain that makes use of the cast-offs of another chain. That practice makes perfect sense, since smaller chains don’t have the capital that a mega-chain like KFC does. La Gondola saves money, an old KFC doesn’t sit vacant or get torn down and hungry Illinoisans still have a place to get a quick bite right where they used to.

The simple model of reuse practiced by La Gondola is not glamorous, but it works economically as well as ecologically. While an old KFC is not architecturally or urbanistically high-style, it’s still a building made of shaped and processed natural resources. When reused, those resources are saved.