Nugent Senior Apartments Wins Preservation Award
Built in 1895, the brick-and-terra cotta old-age home was designed to look like a château. Philanthropist George Nugent, who made his fortune operating a textile mill near what is now East Falls, bequeathed the money for the retirement home in his will. During his years as a Baptist deacon, Nugent was concerned about the living conditions of elderly ministers and missionaries, and wanted to give them an alternative to the poorhouse or other government funded institutions.
A few years after the Baptist Home opened, a music publisher, Theodore Presser, built a retirement home next door for elderly music teachers. Both properties were bought in 1980 by an investor group and converted into boarding homes for the elderly and people with mental disabilities. The owners closed the personal-care homes in 2002.
In 2004, a church congregation bought the combined 5.6 acres with the intention of razing the buildings to make way for a new mega-church. Neighbors and local officials mounted an effort to save the buildings, which saw the buildings added to the city and state registers of historic properties in 2005 based on an application submitted by the Preservation Alliance. The years after the personal-care home closed in 2002 saw a rapid deterioration in the condition of the building. The property was overcome with vegetation, making the building vulnerable to the elements. When the proposed church deal fell through, the current owners bought both buildings in 2005 and initiated their plans for preservation and reuse.
The Nugent Home’s Chateauesque style involves a complex roof with copper cornices and flashing, and steeply pitched spires and turrets covered with terra cotta tiles. Most of the copper was stolen by thieves who also carted off nearly every bit of metal from the building, including wiring, pipes, radiators and bathtubs, and in the process severely damaged the main staircase. The century-old roof tiles were in bad shape as well, though most remained on the roof. The loss of the terra-cotta roof tiles and flashing resulted in leaks which caused areas of the roof and floors below to be damaged.
With the acquisition of low income financing from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency and historic tax credits from the National Park Service, and a grant from the Office of Housing and Community, the owners originally bought the buildings with the intention of restoring them and leasing them as market-rate units. The collapse of the housing market led them back to senior housing and the tax credits that can come with it.
In Mount Airy, demand for rental units catering to fixed-income seniors has proven strong. When the owners finished the Presser Building next door in 2010, it rented all the units in three months and has more than 300 names on its waiting list. The Nugent Home is projected to have a similar positive impact on the community. The West Mount Airy Neighbors, a community association, is supportive of the project and are pleased that the building will continue to be a huge presence in West Mount Airy.
The owner’s plans were approved for historic preservation tax credits with a design that would fully preserve the character defining elements of the building: wide hallways, the front porch, a carved-wood central staircase, and front parlors created by tall bay windows. A critical component of obtaining the full financing of the Nugent Building was the ability to construct an addition to the rear of the building that adds 36 units to the 21 units possible in the historic building itself. The mix of old and new makes the project economically feasible.
On the exterior, the one-inch Roman brick facing, which had been damaged by vandals, was cleaned and restored. The 16 chimneys were structurally stabilized and repointed, while the stolen copper cornices and columns were re-created. Inside, damaged woodwork was carefully restored or replaced and spaces which were gutted to the underlying structure were transformed into 21 light-filled apartment units. At the back of the building, a fire-damaged porch was removed to allow for a 15-foot wide glass-walled connector to the new building built in a matching exterior and with an additional 36 apartment units.
Renovations commenced on the Nugent Building in 2012 and were completed in December of 2013. Credits to Domus, Inc. for construction management, Holstein White, Inc. for MEP engineering, and O’Donnell & Naccarato for structural engineering.