Rental units for seniors unveiled

DELANCO — Pat Manning leaned on her wrought iron, second-floor balcony behind the majestic columned portico of Zurbrugg Mansion and gazed beyond at the rippling surface of the Delaware River and Philadelphia on the far shore.

On a sunny day Manning said she watches spectacular sunsets over the river.

Despite the cold gray gloom of an overcast sky Friday, the mood inside the mansion was bright and upbeat at the dedication of the newly restored and renovated mansion as affordable rental housing for seniors.

Beside being a home once again, its first-floor Victorian parlors and music room as well as its grounds will remain open to the public for group meetings and events.

Manning is one of the first of eight new residents who just moved into a three-room apartment, one of 10 independent living units inside the main mansion and 17 in a newly expanded annex behind it. More than a dozen units ranging from studios to two bedrooms are still available for seniors with low-to-moderate incomes.

"I am absolutely ecstatic," said Manning, 73, a widow who was raised in the nearby communities of Beverly and Delran, moved to the Poconos and then wanted to return to Burlington County where other family lived because her husband died.

"I had known about this place and always loved old mansions and living near the water. It's quiet and everyone is so friendly," she said.

Her apartment is airy with high ceilings and windows, wooden kitchen cabinets and a tiled bathroom with floral designs even on the ceramic floor.

The $4.4 million historic preservation and conversion of the 99-year-old Georgian mansion at 531 Delaware Avenue was a joint venture between the township and Zurbrugg Partnership LLC, a subsidiary of Grapevine Development of Moorestown. The township sold the mansion to the partnership for $1.8 million $200,000 less than it paid for it in 2006 - after it could not find an economically feasible use for the mansion, which
was vacant and in need of repair.

"This is magnificent and a great accomplishment by Grapevine," said Delanco Mayor Kate Fitzpatrick. "They saw a vision here and we saw an opportunity to save this jewel and to transfer senior housing obligations from the Rivers Edge development to here," she said.

The local women's club will use the house on its holiday home tour Sunday from 4 to 7 p.m. Carriage rides around township will be offered at 6 p.m. Saturday starting at the mansion.

The site is on the state and national registries of historic places. The mansion was commissioned and completed in 1911 by Swiss industrialist Theophilus Zurbrugg, founder of the now defunct Zurbrugg Hospital of Riverside.

The annex was built by Collingswood preacher Carl McIntyre, who operated the mansion as the Bible Presbyterian Home until the 1970s. It was also a designer showcase house for Zurbrugg Hospital and last became The Columns, an independent living operation that experienced tax problems.

Randy Cherkas, managing partner of Grapevine, said great efforts were made to save wood-carved moldings, fireplaces and the staircase. The carriage house on the property is to be restored into a single-family home.

Nancy Hall, the great-niece of Zurbrugg and whose father lived at the mansion for a number of years before she was born, attended the dedication.

"I am happy they saved so much of the treasure of the house," she said, pointing to the carvings of musical instruments on the music room's wooden mantle and the Swiss cross on an oak mantle in a parlor.

Delanco resident Carol Gunkel, who used to be the housekeeper at the mansion from the 1980s until 1994, looked up the staircase and recalled sitting on every step of it to clean the curved wooden spindles under the staircase railing.

"It's a beautiful place and it would have been a shame if it were torn down," she said.

The state Department of Community Affairs financed most of the project with a $2.2 million loan from its balanced housing program. Additional funding was from the county government's HOME program, the Federal HOusing Loan Bank Affordable Housing Program and the township's affordable housing trust fund.

County Freeholder Joseph Donnelly called the transformation "a remarkable rebirth."

"This is what our programs are all about," he said, referring to the low-interest HOME loan program that subsidized 11 of the rental units.

Paul Stridick of Merchantville, director of housing and community resources for the state, called the mansion a holiday present for the residents and the community. "Our main goal is to provide safe and decent housing...and it saved a wonderful landmark," he said.

For rental information, call Lutheran Social Ministries at (856) 461-0435.

By CAROL COMEGNO • Courier-Post Staff• December 11, 2010

Reach Carol Comegno at (609) 267-9486 or ccomegno@courierpostonline.com