As the developers of St. Joseph’s senior apartments peeled back the layers of this historic property during its redevelopment, they discovered numerous historical details they felt compelled to keep.
“Architecturally, I think the highlight is certainly the fact that we’ve been able to preserve so much,” says Smitha Seshadri, senior project manager for BRIDGE Housing Corp., developer of St. Joseph’s. “We acquired the building in such bad shape. [But] we were able to go in and put it back again to really good public use.”
The former convalescent home for low-income seniors, built in 1912, had what the nonprofit affordable housing developer was seeking to satisfy public funding requirements: It was close to transportation and amenities in a distressed, underdeveloped community with an area median income of 35 percent.
But because the complex had been designated a historic landmark in 1984, the developer was required to preserve all of St. Joseph’s details. As such, its four-story chapel and original wood remain, with novelty items such as a confessional, terra-cotta tiles, and plaster-detailed columns preserved as viewing pieces in common areas.
“As much as possible, we tried to maintain historical features in public spaces so that everyone could enjoy them,” Seshadri says. Preserved items include stained-glass windows and a slate roof with copper gutters.
Yet the trickiest endeavor was seismically retrofitting the building without ruining its historic appearance. The team tackled the challenge by layering a concrete wall about a foot thick behind the brick wall in front to provide the windows with good seating. The scope of work included a significant amount of environmental remediation during demolition, as well.
All of St. Joseph’s units receive Sec. 8 assistance, with 30 percent of the units reserved for tenants who were formerly homeless, at risk of homelessness, or enrolled in the state-funded Multipurpose Senior Services Program. The 1.59-acre site includes 3,200 square feet of commercial office space that will be leased to local community-based/community-serving nonprofits. —