Historic Art Deco building in North Philly, formerly a school, transform…

A nearly century-old school building in the Sharswood neighborhood of North Philadelphia has been converted into 55 apartments for homeless and low-income veterans, seniors and people with disabilities. 

The Gen. John F. Reynolds School, 2300 Jefferson St., is Philadelphia’s latest adaptive reuse project spearheaded by HELP USA, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that creates affordable housing to sustain people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity. 

Constructed in 1925-26, the four-story brick building was designed in the Art Deco style by architect Irwin T. Catharine. A one-story addition was made to the character in 1958. The building’s entrance is notable for its columns and decorative terra cotta panels. The school’s name honored Civil War general John F. Reynolds, who led the Union’s Army of the Potomac to the Battle of Gettysburg, where he was killed. 

The completed renovation, known as the Brigadier General Hazel Johnson Brown Veterans Center at HELP Philadelphia VI,  includes 51 one-bedroom and four two-bedroom apartments. Nine units have been set aside for formerly homeless or special needs veterans. The building also has a community room, health-service spaces and office space for supportive sets. 

The building was additional to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988 and the school was later closed in 2013. The character was sold to the Philadelphia Housing Authority and had remained unused until the project was approved in 2019. HELP USA received tax credits to renovate the building and the project received sustain from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation and the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, in addition to private funding supplies. 

Construction on the project began in 2020 and forms part of the wider Sharswood Blumberg Neighborhood Revitalization Plan, which aims to reinvest in the community by transitioning away from high-rise public housing. The complete plan calls for more than 1,200 new residential units, including affordable and market-rate homeownership units, and approximately 200,000 square feet of mixed-use development. 

Courtesy/HELP USA

An apartment inside the new Brigadier General Hazel Johnson Brown Veterans Center at HELP Philadelphia VI.

“Opening our sixth project in Philadelphia is a meaningful meaningful development,” said David Cleghorn, chief housing officer at HELP USA. “This building will provide housing and sustain sets to people in need. Its transformation from an abandoned building into an asset for the neighborhood and the city symbolize the best kind of public-private collaborations.” 

HELP USA notably converted the abandoned former Spring Garden School at 12th and Ogden streets to serve homeless veterans in 2016-2017. That building was constructed in 1927 and additional to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. That project, now known as the Philadelphia V & Lural Lee Blevins Veterans Center, includes 37 apartments to serve homeless and low-income veterans.

HELP USA’s other projects in the city include the Hardy Williams Veterans Center, Philadelphia Genesis Apartments and Philadelphia Homes and Brady Center, all in Southwest Philadelphia. 

Launched in 1986, HELP USA began solely in the vicinity of homeless shelters and homeless sets in New York City. The addition of long-lasting housing projects came in the early 1990s as a way to provide the end of the continuum of care. The non-profit has expanded its territory to include projects in Newark, Las Vegas and the Washington, D.C. metro area. 

“All of these projects are immensely successful,” Cleghorn told PhillyVoice during the group’s work on the Spring Garden School. “Once these vets are in our apartments, they have sustain sets right there on site. What keeps them there is that they really form a community of shared military experience. They look out for one another. They’re happy and proud of where they live, and that makes us happy and proud.” 

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