October 31, 2018

Former Masonic Temple To Transform Into Apartment House

READY FOR A NEW USE: Construction to turn the former Masonic Temple in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood into a multi-family residence is about to begin. Architect Joshua Zinder hopes the 10 units will be available for rental by next fall. (Rendering courtesy JZA+D)

By Anne Levin

The planning and permitting processes have taken more than two years, but construction is finally set to begin on the conversion of the former Aaron Lodge #9 Masonic Temple at 30 MacLean Street into a mix of 10 apartments, including two affordable units.

“It has been a challenging process, but we hope to start work November 1,” architect Joshua Zinder of the Princeton firm JZA+D said on Monday. The partnership behind the project changed from Princeton Property Partners to Princeton MacLean LLC during the two years since it was approved in February 2016, necessitating an extension of the original zoning approvals since they had lapsed.

The 1924 building “is an architectural gem in the community,” Zinder said. “It’s a unique structure. It was cited as a contributing structure when the Witherspoon-Jackson Historic District was established last year. It has some simple federal-style detailing, but it was done originally as an Elks Lodge, and they didn’t follow through with all the detailing because of costs. But it has a cornice and entry that are rather traditional. What makes it a gem is that there really is no building in the neighborhood that looks like it.”

The Masons purchased the building in 1945, and it was in use until it was bought two years ago by a group of developers working in tandem with Zinder. The exterior, which includes a Masonic plaque at the second floor level, will be restored, and a modern stair tower will be added on one side. “We’re making very minor modifications to the structure,” said Zinder. “We were just looking to provide accessibility for fire and things like that. The design adds a stair tower as a separate element of metal and glass, in order not to compete with the historic lodge. The tower will also provide storage and space for a future elevator.”

The volume of the building will not change, and the design will maintain the original character, height, and scale. But the interior, which was originally planned to have six apartments rather than 10, will be markedly different.

“It’s interesting, because the way we looked at the building it was a bit like a Jenga — a puzzle. We thought, how can we fit unique apartments into this volume, which we were not changing?” said Zinder. “When the partnership was planning for six units, it was hard to make that financially viable when running the numbers. So now we have 10.”

On two floors, the units will include five duplexes, one two-bedroom flat, two studios, and two one-bedrooms. The affordable units are one of the studios and the two-bedroom flat.

The building is sustainably designed, and the partners will seek Gold-level certification under the LEED for Existing Buildings standard from the U.S. Green Building Council. Green building components include energy-efficient mechanical systems and fixtures, bike parking, new trees, and plantings. Parking for 11 vehicles will be provided.

Back in February 2016 when the project was first approved, rents for the market rate units were projected as ranging from about $1,500 to $2,500. But Zinder said he does not have current figures on what the rents will be. He is hoping to have the units ready for occupancy in about nine months.

“But this is an old building, so there are certainly challenges,” he said. “It is not an easy project. But we’re excited about it.”