Thomas Hagen, Erie billionaire, has no plans to stop buying and restoring homes

Just two weeks ago, Erie-based Erie Insurance unveiled its new $ 147 million office building named in honor of company president Thomas B. Hagen.

Hagen is a huge fan of the new seven-story brick and glass structure at the east end of Perry Square.

Associated coverage:Take a peek inside Erie Insurance’s new Thomas B. Hagen building, valued at $ 147 million

However, he continues to devote a great deal of his time and energy, and some of his money, to breathing new life into the architecture of Erie’s past.

In December, Hagen unveiled the completed renovations to two brick mansions on West Sixth Street in what was once known as Millionaire’s Row.

The two buildings, built in 1875 in the basin of the former Erie Extension Canal, have been converted into 12 apartments, all rented out.

Previous coverage:Mystery Sixth Street Developer Revealed: Tom Hagen

But Hagen’s restoration campaign continued with the help of architect Erie Jeff Kidder; Mike Jefferys, president of Kidder Jeffreys Construction; and project manager Michael Glass.

In a recent interview with the Erie Times-News, members of Hagen’s group said several other historic restoration projects have been completed and more are under construction or will soon be.

In fact, 10 new apartments have been completed and rented since Canalside Townhouses were offered for rent.

Following:Erie’s newest apartments fashioned from 145-year-old buildings in a historic site

These projects include five one-bedroom apartments in the former Addison Leech House at 462 West Sixth St. and five other apartments in two buildings at 414 and 416 State St.

The property at 416 State, most recently the home of American Surplus, was built around 1889 as the home of Troy Steam Laundry, owned by Irish immigrant Annie Shanahan.

The building at 414 State Street, originally the home of Joseph M. Sterrett, was briefly the residence of famous newspaper editor Horace Greeley, perhaps best known for saying, “Go west, young man “.

It is also the oldest building on State St., Hagen said.

Associated coverage:2017 marks Erie’s 70th year of US surplus

Major renovations to both buildings have made way for the Fresh Healthy Cafe, which plans to move into the space this fall. The company already operates seven locations in the United States and Canada, including one in the Millcreek Mall.

All five of the State Street apartments were rented out, but it wasn’t easy to get there.

Jeffreys said the back section of the 414 State Street building had badly leaked and was little more than layers of crumbling brick.

“The back part of the building, we actually lost it,” he said. “We have rebuilt it as before”, using the original foundations.

This photo shows the Troy-Sterrett Building at 414 and 416 State St. before the renovations.  The building, which previously housed the American Surplus Store, now houses five one-bedroom apartments and a retail storefront.
This photo shows the Troy-Sterrett Building at 414 and 416 State St. after renovations by owner Thomas Hagen and architect Jeff Kidder.  The building, which previously housed the American Surplus Store, now houses five one-bedroom apartments and a retail storefront.

Hagen’s group is working on more projects and has plans for more.

Another mansion, this one at 318 W. Sixth St., is slated for completion this fall with five one-bedroom apartments. Kidder said seven more apartments will be completed and ready for rent this fall with the completion of restoration work at 516 and 518 Chestnut St.

Work is also underway to renovate the house just east of the Erie Community Foundation at 459 W. Sixth St. Hagen has purchased the house and is having it renovated as a gift to the foundation.

Although Hagen has already purchased 216 W. Seventh St., there are no specific plans for when construction will begin, Kidder said.

This historic home, located at 216 W. Seventh St., Erie, premieres July 9.  Architect Jeff Kidder has said the property will be restored, but no specific plan has yet been developed.

No love for the old United Way building

There is at least one property on the group’s task list that has no historical significance.

Hagen is not a fan of the building at 420 W. Sixth St., which was constructed in 1970 after the demolition of the former Charles M. Reed Jr. mansion.

The brick and concrete structure built there was home to the Erie County Motor Club or AAA and later the headquarters of the United Way of Erie County.

Hagen admitted he had no love for the building when he bought it in the summer of 2020. He speculated, however, that he could keep the building and find a way to blend it into the neighborhood. .

The former United Way of Erie County building, 420 W. Sixth St., in Erie, is shown on July 30, 2020. Building owner Thomas Hagen has said the building will be demolished and replaced at some point.

Associated coverage:Erie United Way moves to former Wayne School

Hagen recently told the Erie Times-News that he had changed his mind.

“No, we are not going to restore this place,” he said. “We can use it as a sort of temporary office space, but eventually the building will be replaced.”

It is not yet certain what will be built in its place.

“We’re not going to replicate an old house, but we’re going to build something to scale and with materials that will fit into the West Sixth Street neighborhood.

This neighborhood will likely remain at the center of restoration efforts by Hagen, Kidder, Jefferys and Glass.

“This is our happy hunting ground,” Hagen said.

Following:Erie’s newest apartments fashioned from 145-year-old buildings in a historic site

Hagen, who meets his team at least once a week and is on construction sites several times a week, said he was intrigued by the challenges posed by the restoration.

“We’re all there at one point or another, sometimes putting out small fires,” he said. “This kind of thing we do is about attention to detail.”

Few things go as planned.

“It’s a bumpy road,” he said. “There is always something about a historic home. Whether you find rotten roof rafters or a sinking foundation, there is always something.”

Kidder estimates that the top-down renovations undertaken by his team add another 100 years to the life of some of the buildings.

“A lot of these buildings were pretty worn out,” Kidder said. “They needed it or it would have gotten to the point that no one else would have invested in them. Some of them were out of breath.”

No profit

Hagen, a billionaire ranked by Forbes as Pennsylvania’s second richest resident, is not limited by a motive for profit.

He eventually plans to turn all the properties over to a historic preservation trust he established with the Erie Community Foundation. The trust will be able to use the rental income to pay for their upkeep and invest in other properties.

Following:Hagen builds trust for historic Erie properties

In short, Hagen doesn’t need to make any money, and it helps to deal with crumbling foundations and crumbling walls.

“If someone came in to make money, they would end up destroying it,” Hagen said. “You will never be able to get back what you put in there.”

Glass, who worked for 38 years at Erie Insurance, overseeing buildings and grounds for much of that time, said an offer from Hagen – after Glass retired in 2018 – was too good to resist.

Jeffery’s, who worked in commercial construction for years in California and Erie, said the job was particularly satisfying.

“I had never worked on historic homes before,” he said. “It is by far the most interesting thing I have done,” he said.

When will Hagen stop buying and restoring houses?

“When I run out of houses, or maybe when I run out of money,” he said.

Contact Jim Martin at 814-870-1668 or [email protected] Follow him on twitter @ETNMartin.

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