Phila. Preservation Alliance Honors Presser Home Renovation

February, 2011- Nolen Properties, LLC., and the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD) announced that Presser Senior Apartments, on historic Johnson Street in Mt. Airy, has been awarded a 2011 Grand Jury Award from the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia.

After suffering much deterioration, Nolen Properties acquired this historic treasure and transformed it into 45 affordable apartments for senior citizens. The design and restoration succeeded in maintaining the original character and fabric of the building. Presser was the first housing development in Philadelphia to be funded partially with the use of Community Development Block Grant-Recovery (CDBG-R) funds. OHCD worked with Nolen Properties to connect Recovery Act dollars with the project.

Jim Nolen, President of Nolen Properties, said, “Presser Senior Apartments offers older Philadelphians safe and affordable housing, while preserving the history of this extraordinary building. The development process restored the original structure and respected the authentic and distinctive design detail. It has been an honor to work on this building and to be recognized by the Preservation Alliance.”

Originally commissioned by sheet music publisher and philanthropist Theodore Presser, the Presser Home for Retired Music Teachers is a grand 52,248 square foot building. The original Presser Home building was designed by the Philadelphia architectural firm Seymour & Davis and completed in 1914.

The building became vacant in 2002, suffered significant deterioration and was a candidate for demolition under prior owners. A coalition of community groups formed to prevent this demolition, and in 2005 they succeeded in adding the Presser Home to the National Register of Historic Places.

Nolen Properties acquired the property in 2006 with the promise to restore it to the original beauty and keep its historic integrity. Architect JKR Partners led the design team that fully restored the interior and exterior of the building, maintained many original character-defining features and utilized the original design while introducing modern components.

The renovation of the exterior maintained the historic fabric of the original building, restoring the original Italian Renaissance style with smooth buff roman brick, limestone, and terra cotta trim.

The building’s interior renovation design maintained and restored or replicated all the original hallways, including the 10-foot wide corridors, 12-foot high ceilings, and original decorative millwork. New crown molding was designed identical to the original for the former Parlor. The first floor corridor had its original mosaic tile detail fully restored, which required hand-cleaning with toothbrushes to preserve the color and texture.

The original design included single rooms with sinks, but only communal bathrooms on each floor. By reducing the density from 86 rooms to 45 apartments, each new apartment now has a private bathroom and a fully equipped kitchen.

The locations of original hallway doors were retained to maximize the historic accuracy.  Since the transoms in their original form were no longer compatible with today’s building codes, the development team installed fire-rated glass in these openings to maintain the appearance of the original design.

While maintaining historic integrity, the building’s design incorporated energy efficient elements. All appliances meet Energy Star® requirements. All new windows meet the original design standards, and are fully energy efficient historically accurate replacements.

The building has also been transformed to include modern amenities including a community room, a management/support service office, a mailroom and a laundry on every floor. Each apartment will also have internet access and fiber-optic connectivity.

The grounds preserved mature trees and a portion of the original wrought iron hairpin fence has been salvaged, restored and reinstalled in front of the building. The rear courtyard has been refinished with brick pavers, benches, planting areas and umbrella tables to serve as the residents’ central gathering place in the warmer months.  The former Recital Hall has been carefully and accurately restored with its original warm oak floors.

Deborah McColloch, director of the Office of Housing and Community Development, said, “The City is pleased to have funded the historic renovation of Presser Senior Apartments. Providing quality affordable housing, while restoring a community treasure is a win for everyone involved.”

Six apartments are accessible for people with physical disabilities and two more apartments are accessible to persons with vision or hearing impairments. Residents must be ages 62 and above, and must meet income requirements. The six apartments for people with physical disabilities will be available to seniors with incomes at or below 20% of the Area Median Income (AMI), ($13,725 for one person); 21 apartments will be affordable to seniors with incomes at or below 50% of AMI ($27,450 for one person) and 18 apartments will be affordable to seniors at or below 60% of the AMI ($32, 940 for one person).

Over 300 applications have already been received for the 45 apartments. Move-in is scheduled in early spring.

For a look at the renovation process, click here.

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