Case Study

Massachusetts Seniors Living Out Their Golden Years, Literally  

5 min read

Makepeace Building Becomes Gardner Terrace Apartments 

The concept of seniors living out their golden years is more apt than usual at the Gardner Terrace I Apartments in Attleboro, MA. That’s because the seniors living there in 92 soon-to-be-renovated one-bedroom apartments occupy a building that actually used to process gold. 

The Makepeace Co. building originally there dates to the 19th century, and the jewelry manufacturing industry in Attleboro dates back even farther to a legendary 18th century figure called “the Frenchman,” probably one of the French Huguenots who fled France to avoid religious persecution and were said to be expert jewelers. 

The Frenchman is said to have made buttons for the uniforms of officers in the early American Army, and the first jewelry factory in Attleboro dates to 1807, according to a 1999 retrospective by the Sun Chronicle newspaper. 

Saying Attleboro was a jewelry hub is something of an understatement. The Sun Chronicle reported that in 1900, more than half of Attleboro’s 13,000 residents were employed in the jewelry business. 

The D.E. Makepeace Co. dates to 1885, though it seems the present building was constructed a little later than that, in 1899-1900, according to one historical account, which claims Makepeace at one time was the largest jewelry manufacturing plant in the country. 

Makepeace’s imprint on Attleboro is so large that the present-day Gardner Terrace Apartments are often called the Makepeace Apartments. 

Makepeace did not manufacture jewelry per se, but rather is more accurately described as a processor, preparing the materials that jewelers then used to make their gems, including gold, silver, wire and brass. 

Gold in the Floors 
The gold that flowed through the factory makes grist for a couple of good stories of its floor having been torn up and replaced twice, yielding valuable gold dust ground into the wood over the years. The more recent floor excavation brought a bounty of recovered gold valued in the six figures. 

Gardner Terrace I Apartments’ rehab will begin this month, according to Rodger Brown, managing director of real estate at Boston-based Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH), and the process will take about 18 months. A lot of care has to go into preserving historic things, like windows, (Historic Tax Credits are part of the financing) while making an environmentally sound “tight envelope” for the building. 

Some of the seniors living there now (all are at 60 percent or lower of Area Median Income) will be relocated during construction, but many will stay in place, Brown reports. 

He says the apartments are part of a three-parcel, 200-plus unit portfolio POAH bought in Attleboro in 2020 with preservation in mind. Gardner Terrace II is 52 units of family housing, while Hebronville Mill, another old industrial conversion, has 83 units of senior housing. Gardner Terrace I is the first to be preserved, with a July launch attended by Rep. Jake Auchincloss, Democrat of Massachusetts, and other dignitaries. 

The parcels were converted to housing from their original uses about 30 years ago, Brown estimates, and are in need of substantial reworking. 

Hebronville Mill is also an interesting old industrial building. Brown says it has required $5 million in emergency repairs, including fixing an adjacent dam and other water infrastructure. “That kind of put that project on a different timeline than the Makepeace,” he says. 

Still, this kind of preservation of affordable housing is “our bread and butter, our little corner of the world,” Brown says (after all, “preservation” is right in POAH’s name). “When we started 21 years ago, our core business was preserving at-risk, government-assisted affordable housing.” 

The Attleboro portfolio will be part of an ongoing general improvement Brown has seen in Attleboro over the past couple of years. 

“It’s kind of interesting,” he says. “I’ve been here since two or three years ago and there’s an improvement in the neighborhood. There are some new construction townhouses they’re just finishing off now up the street, and there seems to be an old factory building that’s been renovated near the train station. I can see the neighborhood coming back.” 

An Amazing Number of Windows 
Historical preservation presents a real challenge, Brown says. “There are an amazing number of windows,” he says, “and the building is not energy efficient.” The Architectural Team of Boston is the architect on the project, and the general contractor is the South Coast Improvement Co. “We want tight building envelopes,” he says, “and TAT has real experience with this. We’ve been working with them for a number of years.” 

The project involves a number of moving parts, Brown says, “but we’re confident we’ll have a seamless process with everybody reading off the same page of the hymnal.” 

In 2021, POAH received an allocation of Low Income Housing Tax Credits and tax-exempt bonds to re-syndicate Gardner Terrace I and do a major rehab, which will total $23 million. 

The rehab will include roof and siding replacement, replica window installation, improved ventilation, energy-efficient upgrades on the cooling and heating systems, and upgrades to apartments and common areas. 

Financing partners include MassHousing for the tax-exempt bonds and the permanent financing (a HUD Risk Share loan), and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, which allocated the tax credits. 

Boston Financial Investment Management is the syndicator, and Silicon Valley Bank and Eastern Bank are buying the tax credits and financing the construction. 

OAH is a nonprofit that owns and operates some 13,000 affordable units in 11 states and the District of Columbia.  

Mark Fogarty has covered housing and mortgages for more than 30 years. A former editor at National Mortgage News, he has written extensively about tax credits.