Helene Apartments (Castle Apartments, 232 Cooper Street / 125 N. Third Street)

232 Cooper st.jpg

Title

Helene Apartments (Castle Apartments, 232 Cooper Street / 125 N. Third Street)

Description

Contributing structure, Cooper Street Historic District.

Illustrations

Photograph by Jacob Lechner, 2019

Significance

The Helene Apartments, opened in 1913, introduced luxury apartment living to Camden and encouraged a vision of Cooper Street as a potential high-style, Fifth Avenue-type rental district. Built by an Irish immigrant who became an important local real estate developer, the building later called the Castle Apartments is a contributing structure of the Cooper Street Historic District.

Architectural style

Romanesque Revival

Date of construction

1912 (opened 1913)

History

When the Helene Apartments opened at Third and Cooper Streets in 1913, the four-story granite structure reflected tradition on Cooper Street by emulating the bulk and imposing stone facades of some of the avenue's finest mansions. At the same time, it introduced a new mode of living to Cooper Street and Camden: rental apartments created especially for the upper class.

"Nothing has been spared to make the apartments attractive to the most discriminating classes," promised the builder of the Helene, Patrick J. Farley, who razed his own house at Third and Cooper to clear the site for the new building. Farley, an Irish immigrant, had already made his mark in Camden as one of the developers of Parkside, the streetcar suburb near the Cooper River completed in the first years of the twentieth century. While he remained president of the Parkside Land Company, he moved to Cooper Street in 1905. The home he purchased at Third and Cooper was a three-story brick structure that local newspapers described as a mansion; it had last belonged to one of the co-founders of the Campbell Soup Company, Abraham Anderson. The double lot had a lineage extending to the earliest development of Camden city, having been purchased by a lumber man, Isaac Wilkins, in 1814 and passed to his heirs.

While Farley and his partners promoted affordable home ownership in the twin homes of "Beautiful Parkside," the Helene Apartments beckoned well-to-do homeowners to consider letting go of their homes in favor of rental apartments. To signal the desirability of the Helene, Farley set the rents as high as or higher than any being asked for a house in Camden: $60 to $75 a month. He provided amenities to appeal to a class of tenant accustomed to having servants: six maid's rooms in the basement, for example, and a steam-powered drier to speed the work of the "wash woman."

The Helene had its front door on Cooper Street, where visitors could call on telephones to be let into the interior white marble and tile hallways. Deliveries came to the back of the building, where butchers, bakers, or other suppliers had access to a push-button directory to alert residents of their arrival. They could then proceed up the brick-enclosed iron stairways on the west side of the building, which afforded access to every floor. The stairways doubled as fire escapes--"the safest in the state," the builder proclaimed. In its original configuration, the Helene offered seventeen apartments, each consisting of four rooms, bath, and kitchen, extending across the width of the building with views across the back yards of Cooper Street houses toward the manufacturing complex of the Victor Talking Machine Company.

The presence of the apartment house at Third and Cooper foreshadowed further transformation in the 200 and 300 block of Cooper Street. During the 1920s, as Victor expanded at the east end of Cooper Street and the Walt Whitman Hotel took the place of older mansions to the west, some Camden boosters envisioned Cooper Street as a local version of New York's Fifth Avenue. Apartment buildings fit that vision, and soon the Helene's neighbors included the Chalcar Apartments (220 Cooper Street, built 1925) and the Pierre Apartments (304-306 Cooper Street, built 1932).

The early tenants of the Helene Apartments realized Patrick Farley's expectations: by 1915 and continuing through the 1920s, most were couples in their 30s and 40s, without children at home, with husbands in professions like insurance or engineering and wives who did not work outside the home. The cachet of the Helene Apartments faded somewhat during the Great Depression, when rents for some apartments dropped into the range of $30 to $40 a month. Some of the original tenants stayed on as retirees. By the 1940s, though, some newcomers came from the ranks of skilled trades, including cooks and draftsmen. In a few cases, households included a lodger or a boarder--more characteristic of rooming houses than a luxury apartment home.

Ownership of the apartment building changed only once from the time of its construction until the 1960s. In 1917, Farley sold the Helene Apartments to one of his tenants, building and loan executive Paul J. Powell, and moved on to a comfortable retirement divided between homes in Ventnor and in Palm Beach, Florida. After Powell died in 1938, his widow Mary continued as owner until she died in 1963. By that time, she lived away from the building, with her daughter in Haddonfield, but her son-in-law maintained his medical office at the Helene.

By the end of the Powell era of ownership, the building was showing its age. In 1961, problems with water supply to the upstairs apartments resulted from a water meter in need of updating, city officials said. A series of investor-owners through the last decades of the twentieth century marketed the apartments to workers of RCA and Campbell's as well as students of the emerging local campus of Rutgers University. The building managers sought to limit tenants to adults without children and stressed that residents should behave with respect to elderly neighbors and studious people who appreciated quiet. Nevertheless, the physical condition of the building deteriorated to the point that the mayor of Camden intervened in 2000 to remove some tenants from unsafe conditions.

New investors in the Helene Apartments restored the building to a more habitable condition after 2000 and rebranded the building as the Castle Apartments. From the building's low point in the 1990s, when it went to sheriff's sale resulting in acquisition for $100, the building rebounded to a value of $1.1 million when purchased in 2011 by JVS Camden (later JVS Partnership) of Merchantville.

Associated Individuals

For a list of all known residents and owners, visit the Cooper Street Database and scroll to 232.

Associated architects/builders

Patrick J. Farley, developer and first owner.

Sources

Camden City Directories (Camden County Historical Society, Ancestry.com).
Camden County Property Records.
Camden and Philadelphia Newspapers (Newspapers.com).
U.S. Census and New Jersey State Census (Ancestry.com).

Research by

Charlene Mires and Lucy Davis

Posted by

Charlene Mires
Send corrections to cmires@camden.rutgers.edu

Collection

Citation

“Helene Apartments (Castle Apartments, 232 Cooper Street / 125 N. Third Street),” Learning From Cooper Street, accessed December 4, 2022, https://omeka.camden.rutgers.edu/items/show/58.

Output Formats