A new beginning

DELANCO - There is new life inside the Zurbrugg Mansion.

Recently converted to apartments for senior residents, the historic building was celebrated Friday. An afternoon rededication ceremony and reception drew to the once-neglected waterfront home a crowd that included state, county and local officials, as well as a Zurbrugg family member.

Delanco Mayor Kate Fitzpatrick recalled seeing the mansion in need of repairs and with mold and leaks only three years ago, following a period of vacancy. She called the transformation revealed Friday "a wonderful thing."

"We did not want this property to be lost. It was very important to preserve the historic value," she said. "We wanted it restored. We wanted people to live here and enjoy it."

Open to residents since October, the mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Also listed on New Jersey's historic registry, the home was designed by Philadelphia architect Frank Furness and built for Swiss industrialist Theophilus Zurbrugg. Started in 1910, work was completed the following year.

During Friday's ceremony, Nancy Hall, Zurbrugg's great-niece, spoke to the crowd about her family's Swiss-German origins and life in the house during their residence. She recalled that a Christmas tree glowing with live candles was traditionally placed at the top of the foyer staircase.

"That was a German tradition," said the Riverton resident. "The house was always full of German relatives."

Used as the Zurbrugg family home until 1949, the mansion originally had 12 bedrooms. Later serving as a nursing home and assisted living facility, a two-story expansion from the rear of the building added another dozen bedrooms to the floor plan.

During the recent renovation, rooms in the Georgian-style home were converted into 27 independent-living affordable housing units, including some apartments that are fully accessible to people with disabilities. Meanwhile, a new 6,000-square-foot section was constructed at the rear.

Grapevine Development, a Moorestown architectural firm, purchased the mansion from the township in 2008 through its subsidiary Zurbrugg Partnership LLC and has overseen the renovation project. In addition to the property's main building, there are plans to convert the adjacent Carriage House into a single-family home and to construct eight townhouses on the surrounding land.

At the mansion, Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey, a nonprofit organization based in Burlington Township, is handling leasing and on-site management.

The residential spaces are comprised of three two-bedroom; 20 one-bedroom and five efficiency units. Instead of uniform appearances, the renovation used existing configurations to create unique spaces. The result is a range in the apartments' sizes and layouts.

Many of the units feature interesting elements, such as the ornate fireplace found in a second-floor unit and a skylight in a third-floor bedroom.

Those living in the mansion said they were happy to be there.

"It's gorgeous here," said Joe Iller, who moved in last month from Willingboro.

Marty Hansen, a former Cherry Hill resident, said he was the first tenant and remained the only one for about a month. Since November, he said about six other apartments have been filled. Part of the appeal, he said, is living on the water.

"I plan to fish in the spring," he said.

Local officials expect to use the mansion's common areas as a community gathering place and some events are planned, including regular meetings of the Delanco Historic Preservation Advisory Board and the Delanco Women's Civic Club. In addition, the board is interested in celebrating the home's centennial anniversary next year.

Fitzpatrick called the mansion a "jewel" for the township.

"I am thrilled to see the building renovated and now occupied after a long vacancy period," she said. "We are glad to have such a wonderful home for our seniors, and we look forward to hosting a variety of civic events at the property."

The New Jersey Historic Trust's executive director Dorothy Guzzo applauded the renovation, which incorporates historic elements with modern upgrades. Many imprints left by previous residents, such as 1990s-era murals, remain intact.

"Historic buildings have many lives," Guzzo told the crowd. "You have provided inspiring new life for the Zurbrugg Mansion."

By: KRISTEN COPPOCK Burlington County Times

Kristen Coppock may be reached at 609-871-8073, kcoppock@phillyBurbs.com or twitter.com/kcoppockbct.

December 12, 2010