Senior housing project features heavy dose of historic restoration

January 15, 2013

By Amy Z. Quinn for NewsWorks

From the May 21, 1889 New York Times, under the headline “Telegraphic Brevities”:

At the meeting of the American Baptist Publication Society in Boston yesterday the Hon. Horatio G. Jones, President of the Trustees of the George Nugent Home for Baptists at Germantown, Philadelphia, announced that the home had a foundation or endowment of $300,000 or $400,000, and was ready to receive all Baptist ministers and their wives over sixty years of age. The inmates are supported for life.

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A pair of senior housing projects

In talking about historical properties and their restoration, the phrase “character defining elements” comes up often. It means attributes of a building that make it extra-special — grand balconies, architectural flourishes, distinctive windows.

On West Johnson Avenue in Mount Airy, the ongoing re-do of the former Nugent Home for Baptists, along with the makeover of the former Presser Home For Retired Music Teachers just next door, are restoring two of the historic neighborhood’s own character defining elements.

Nolen Properties bought the two large sites, which had been vacant since 2002, and will eventually join them as one 5.5-acre campus with a planned third building in between in an open area that was once gardens. The 1914 Presser building, now the Presser Senior Apartments, is finished, its 45 units full and with a waiting list.

But work began only recently on what will be the $17 million, 57-unit Nugent Senior Apartments.

Despite Nolen’s decades of work building and rehabbing properties in and around the city, the outfit had never dealt with buildings quite like these, company officials said. With the Presser and Nugent buildings, President Jim Nolen, Managing Director Rick Sudall and the project team are stepping gingerly through the National Park Service rules and mandates that govern every aspect of the historic restoration process.

Attention to detail

On this frigid January day, it’s the color of the roof tiles.

The 1895 Nugent Home’s Chateauesque style involves a complicated roof with copper flashing, spires, and turrets covered with terra cotta tiles. Most of the copper is long gone, stolen by thieves who also carted off nearly every bit of metal from the building, including radiators affixed to interior walls and bathtubs to floors, Sudall said.

The tiles are in bad shape as well, though some still cling to the roof. Others sit in neat piles on the construction site, or in cracked pieces on the ground.

Nolen received approval to replace the originals with reproduction tiles made of a synthetic in the exact size, shape and color as the original terra cotta. But, Jim Nolen said, they now have a vendor willing to reproduce the tiles in terra cotta, though the exact color of the originals can’t be replicated because it involved an outdated glazing process.

So the question becomes, is it worth taking an extra step toward authenticity and getting the terra cotta if it means risking rejection by historic preservations officials because of the color?

“We broke our own rule number one, which was we fell in love with the real estate,” said Nolen.

Restoration after conflict

He’s not the only one. In a recent interview with Plan Philly’s Alan Jaffe, the Nugent and Presser projects were claimed as major triumphs of the 10-year tenure of John Gallery as head of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. Gallery described the community groundswell of support for the properties as “snatching something from the jaws of death.”

For two magnificent structures built to provide a secure home for the elderly, the recent history of the Nugent and Presser buildings was rich first in degradation, as they fell into disrepair, then drama as the community rallied to save them.

In 2004, the Impacting Your World 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.

When the Impacting Your World deal fell through, Nolen bought both properties in 2005, as the historic preservation effort was ongoing. Today, the developers freely admit they didn’t quite know what they were getting themselves into.

“We found out the hard way,” Sudall said.


Nolen originally bought the buildings with the intention of restoring them and leasing them as market-rate units, before the collapse of the housing market led them back to senior housing and the tax credits that can come with it.

The developer’s plans for the Nugent building were turned down twice for historic preservation tax credits, until the third version came up with plans that would more fully preserve and in many cases re-create from scratch those “character defining elements” — wide hallways, the front porch, a carved-wood central staircase, and front parlors created by tall bay windows, Sudall said.

On the exterior, the one-inch Roman brick facing, now graffiti-tagged, will be cleaned and restored, the 16 chimneys shored up, damaged woodwork and a stolen cornice and columns re-created. Inside, spaces are now gutted to stone and wood, but will be transformed to 21 apartment units.

At the back of the building, a fire-damaged porch was removed and will instead see a 15-foot wide glass-walled connector to a new building, built in a matching exterior and with an additional 36 apartment units.

Sudall said even with the tax credits and $2 million in city funding, the cost of the historic renovation made the new units a financial necessity. Rents on the units will be set in a range, from $195 to $794 each month, depending on income levels. Six apartments will be handicap-accessible.

A full year before residents will move in, the Nugent property has a 75-person waiting list, Sudall said.


NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn at


The Nugent Senior Apartments Receives State Funding

-Germantown Newspapers, April 26, 2012, p. 11

The Nugent Senior Apartments located at 221 West Johnson Street has been selected by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency for the construction of affordable senior housing. The proposal by Nolen Properties provides for the renovation of the historic 1895 “Nugent Home for Baptists” into 57 senior apartments and includes a new addition
on the rear of the building.

Once described as the “Most Endangered Historic Building in the City” by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, the building’s grand “Chateauesque” design is an outstanding work of Philadelphia architect J. Franklin Stuckert. It was built by philanthropist George Nugent and constructed solely for the care of elderly Baptist Ministers and their wives. The Nugent building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. Nolen Properties acquired the building in 2006 after the previous owner failed in its attempt to secure demolition permits. In 2011, Nolen Properties completed construction of the adjacent Presser Senior Apartments at 101 West Johnson Street, a similar conversion of a historic building into 45 affordable senior apartments. All 45 Presser Apartments were leased in three months. The Presser Senior Apartments is the 2011 winner of the Grand Jury Award for Historic Preservation from the Preservation Alliance as well as the Pennsylvania Multi-Family Historic Preservation Award from Preservation Pennsylvania.

Nolen Properties principal Jim Nolen was extremely pleased to have been selected in the very competitive PHFA bidding process: “We are delighted to be able to restore this magnificent structure to its original glory while providing for the housing needs of our older neighbors in the Germantown and Mt. Airy neighborhoods.” Nolen has retained the architectural firm JKR Partners to complete the architectural design and David Plante, PE, a Germantown resident and principal of Ritter & Plante Associates, as the
Nugent site engineer.

The City of Philadelphia Office of Housing and Community Development has also expressed the support of the Nugent Senior Apartments in the form of a $2.6 million affordable housing loan. The Nugent Senior Apartments has received final approval from
the Philadelphia Historical Commission.

Editor’s note: This magnificent West Johnson Street property, and the adjacent Presser Senior Home, survived a typical Philadelphia government underground move to demolish them as a political favor for insiders close to senior elected leadership. Were it not for the prompt actions of a small neighborhood organization (PCCC) and the recruitment of two others (WMAN and WCGN) in support of having them properly designated historical, they would have fallen and would not be serving the valuable civic purpose of senior housing. They were only a week away from a secretly drafted demolition permit when the
city was stopped.

Presser Residents enjoy First Holiday in their New Home


Reposted from City of Philadelphia Blog, April 14, 2010

Philadelphia, April 14, 2010 – Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller and Nolen Properties, LLC, today celebrated a ceremonial groundbreaking for Presser Senior Apartments in the City’s West Mount Airy neighborhood. This 45-unit affordable apartment complex will create jobs while providing much-needed senior housing.

Additionally, the project is an historic renovation of the Presser Home for Retired Music Teachers. The original Presser Home was commissioned by sheet music publisher and Philadelphia philanthropist, Theodore Presser, designed by Philadelphia architectural firm Seymour & Davis, and completed in 1914.

Unfortunately, the home became vacant and fell into disrepair before being acquired for rehabilitation in 2006 by Nolen Properties. With the assistance of Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, this 52,248 square-foot building was included on the National Register of Historic Places that same year.

“This project will not only provide seniors with excellent, affordable housing, but it will also bring more jobs to Philadelphia,” said Mayor Nutter. “It is another great example of Recovery dollars at work in our city.”

“The Eighth Council District is known for its significant historical sites,” said Councilwoman Reed Miller. “I am proud that Mt. Airy will be home not only to safe and affordable housing for our seniors but also to the first stimulus-funded historical housing renovation in the City.”

All homes will be targeted toward seniors aged 62 and older with incomes of $32,700 or less per year.

In an effort to remain energy-conscious and control costs, all homes will feature individual heating and air conditioning. The apartment complex will also be renovated to include modern amenities while maintaining the historical integrity of the structure.

“Presser Senior Apartments is a unique housing development,” said Deborah McColloch, director of the Office of Housing and Community Development. “In addition to restoring a historical site to its former grandeur and function, Presser Senior Apartments will help address the critical need for quality affordable housing in our city.”

James A.  Nolen of Nolen Properties, LLC said “We are extremely happy to bring this magnificent historic structure back to life while providing affordable housing to the senior citizens and job opportunities for people throughout the community.”

Rehabilitation of the building, which is best known for its terra cotta ornamentation in the Italian Renaissance Revival style, is scheduled for completion in 2011.

Funding for this development was provided by the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and PNC Bank.

Nolen Properties, LLC is a fifth-generation family business based in Philadelphia and focused on urban redevelopment. The company believes in the adaptive reuse of real estate assets to benefit the neighborhoods, infrastructure and environment of Philadelphia.