Converting an eyesore in Mount Airy

The buzz of chain saws filled the warm sun-drenched air at Johnson and Cherokee Streets in West Mount Airy Monday as a work crew cut away at scraggly limbs on a few trees on the grounds of a massive former Mount Airy Commons, an abandoned retirement home for the elderly and mentally troubled.

The workmen, operating behind a six-foot chain-link fence, were preparing for the April 14 groundbreaking for the Presser Senior Apartments at 101 W. Johnson Streets.

"Anything is better than what is there now," said Samantha Taylor, a speech therapist who has lived nearby for three years. "It will be maintained, there will be security and the grounds will be maintained."

Since 2002, the four-story building had been vacant, dilapidated and a source of community outrage over its condition.

The 52,000-square-foot, Renaissance Revival-style building will be converted to 45 apartments for low-income senior citizens, operated by Philadelphia Presbyterian Homes and Services. The $13.4 million project is being funded by the city of Philadelphia, and the state with federal stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and private investors, said Paul Chrystie, a spokesman for the city Office of Housing and Community Development.

Jim Foster, who operates West Johnson Classic Auto Repair, across the street from the building, hailed the project. "It's the right thing for a mature community like this. It maintains the quality of the community, and everybody wins."

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