July 29, 2020

Mixed Income Rental Development Opens in Witherspoon-Jackson District

RESTORED AND READY: The facade of the former Aaron Lodge No. 9 at 30 Maclean Street has been preserved and updated, with new architectural elements designed to complement the old. (Photo by Michael Slack, courtesy of JZA+D)

By Anne Levin

“For Rent” signs are up on Maclean and John streets, alongside a four-story building that once housed a local chapter of the Masonic Order in Princeton’s Witherspoon-Jackson historic district. Ten rental apartments, two earmarked for affordable housing, now occupy the site, which has been renovated and reimagined by local architecture firm JZA+D.

Managing partner Joshua Zinder consulted with former Freemason chapter members as part of the two-year process, transforming the 7,600-square-foot building, which was built in 1924, into apartments. The Masons purchased the site in 1945, and it was in use until it was bought in 2016 by a group of developers working in tandem with Zinder.

“Like any project, this one took longer and cost more than we expected,” Zinder said. “The challenge here was to maintain our commitment to LEED [green building rating system] and to the building’s historic elements. We pulled out all the joists and timbers, reinstalling them in pieces, and they are in the ceilings of the kitchens and dining rooms. There are little accents here and there where we tried to use the old materials as much as we could.”

The Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood’s designation as Princeton’s 20th historic district happened just after Zinder and partners were approved for the project. But he thinks they would have gotten the go-ahead either way. “I do believe the project is sensitive to its historic character, and I believe it would have passed,” he said. “The challenge in a restoration is how to treat the new elements. We had to add a stair (case) and an elevator, so we decided the most respectful way to do that was to make them not look like the original building.”

The elevator tower on the side of the building is painted a distinctive orange, separating it from the rest of the stucco and brick exterior. The original sign over the door for Aaron Lodge No. 9 has been replicated, and signs reading “30 Mac” are mounted elsewhere on the exterior. “We had given the Masons the building’s cornerstone, which we recreated and duplicated, adding ‘2020’ to it,” Zinder said.

The studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units range from 500 to 1,200 square feet and are priced from $1,975 to $4,150 for market rate apartments. The two affordable units will be priced “in accordance with applicable state and local guidelines,” according to a press release. Four units have been leased, and four are still available. The affordable units are going through the approval process, Zinder said.

Floors are oak, countertops are quartz, and washer/dryer duos are in each apartment. The developers are shooting for gold LEED certification, which is the highest. Several sustainable design elements were incorporated into the design. There is available
bicycle storage in the tower. “We wanted to act responsibly and make 30 Maclean a sustainable experience for residents and neighbors,” Zinder said.

The original lodge was a landmark of Princeton’s Black community. “It is an exceptional building,” said Zinder. “It’s a one-of-a-kind structure in Princeton. From a historical point of view, the Masons built it in 1924, and it had three layers of terracotta tiles holding up the walls. At one point, we had almost all the floors removed from the inside and the walls were staying up on their own. While that was going on, we still had the roof on the building, so that never changed. A main truss that runs across the roof appears in two of the units.”

Tenants have begun to move in to the recently finished building. “We wanted this to be an environmentally responsible transformation of this historically important building,” said Zinder. “There are brick accents here and there. In unit six, on the second floor, and in the hallway on the third floor, you can see the brick surrounds from the windows. They appear and become openings in the spaces. With things like that, we tried very hard to be respectful of the building.”