Gay senior housing project plans fall opening – Oakland, CA

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In the fall, Oakland’s historic Lake Merritt Hotel will become Barbary Lane, Armistead Maupin’s famed community from Tales of the City. But there is a twist — the residents have all gotten a bit gray.

A local development company dubbing itself Barbary Lane Senior Communities has teamed up with the famed gay San Francisco author to open what will be the first independent-living LGBT senior community in the Bay Area. It envisions that rather than being insular or isolated from the rest of the community, residents of the 46 units will feel part of a community.

“Twenty-one years ago when I read Tales of the City for the first time I never imagined bringing fiction to reality,” said Jeffrey Dillon, BLSC vice president of operations.

Maupin, 61, who described himself as “an old guy,” joined with Dillon and his business partners, David Latina and Randi Gerson, to unveil the new project Tuesday, February 27.

“I was extremely flattered when I found out that they wanted to implore the lore,” he said. “I felt for some time that we gay people are going to have to invent our futures much in the way we invented our past as well as our present.”

The company declined to disclose how much it is compensating Maupin for being involved in the project.

The landmark hotel, done in a Mediterranean Art Deco style – rests on the edge of the downtown lake and will undergo a $3 million “green” and senior-friendly renovation. Studio to two-bedroom apartments will range from an estimated $3,295 to $4,295 a month with an array of amenities and services included.

Starting today, March 1, Barbary Lane Senior Communities is accepting applications for the 46 units that will be ready for queer seniors to move in starting this fall.

The need for LGBT senior housing in the Bay Area is rapidly growing. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force approximates that there are over three million LGBT people over the age of 65 in the United States. The number is estimated to nearly double by 2030.

Many of those LGBT people in the United States call the Bay Area home. Based on population figures from the 2000 U.S. Census, the Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles estimates that there are 256,313 queer adults living in the Bay Area.

A retirement community for GLBT seniors plans to open in Santa Rosa in the North Bay sometime in late 2008 or 2009. In the planning stages for several years now, the 148-unit Fountaingrove will offer varied housing types, from independent living to skilled nursing care. The developers plan to set aside 20 percent of the units for affordable housing.

BLSC is privately owned and does not plan to offer any apartments below market rate. When the Bay Area Reporter asked about the lack of apartments available to low-income LGBT people, Latina, president of BLSC, told the B.A.R. that they were concerned about this and that they plan to develop a foundation to address the need.

Cheryl and Randall Berger, who own Lake Merritt Hotel and are BLSC investors, saved the building from being demolished in 1987. They restored the hotel, built by California architect William H. Weeks in 1927, to its former glamour, and in 1991, the building became a landmark.

The couple successfully marketed the charming six-story building as a boutique hotel until 2004. They then started thinking about better uses for the building and teamed up with the gay developer team.

The business partners subsequently reached out to Maupin with their idea to create a safe and comfortable community for LGBT seniors and their friends. Everyone loved the idea.

Cliff Hamilton, 85, a bisexual man and a long-time Oakland resident, plans on moving into his one bedroom apartment in the fall. He is still very independent, but eight years ago he lost his “male friend” and has been living alone.

He told the B.A.R. that he originally didn’t want to live in an LGBT community, but he changed his mind after he learned that the community would be open to people of all sexual orientations. Hamilton said he is looking forward to being near shops and restaurants, walking along the lake, and not cooking or cleaning for himself.

Maupin, though, has no plans to move into the building. He told the B.A.R. he could imagine himself living at a Barbary Lane type facility if one were built in San Francisco.

“I personally would like to see drag queens walking around the halls of a senior community,” said Maupin.

That might not be too far off in the future. Barbary Lane Senior Communities is searching for a location within San Francisco as well as Palm Springs, Los Angeles, San Diego, and New York. But solid plans haven’t been made yet.
Openhouse plans move forward

Another San Francisco LGBT senior housing facility is inching closer to being a possibility. The LGBT group Openhouse is working with AF Evans Development to build 450 rental units with 80 apartments dedicated to queer seniors at 55 Laguna, the vacant University of California at Berkeley Extension building.

San Francisco’s Planning Commission will discuss the environmental impact report for what is called the “55 Laguna Mixed Use Project” on March 15 and will be held in Room 400 at City Hall, but a time hadn’t been scheduled of as press time. The meeting was rescheduled from March 8.

The proposed plans for the site include comprehensive senior services that will be available to residents and the community, as well as markets, parking, and a park that will open up Waller Street.

Nearby residents have raised objections to the plans, citing its adverse impacts on traffic and noise in the residential neighborhood. But some LGBT officials have voiced support.

“What stands out about this project and why it should be beneficial to the city and the LGBT community is that it begins to address the issue of affordable housing for LGBT seniors, ” said Supervisor Tom Ammiano.

Openhouse Executive Director Moli Steinert said the Hayes Valley community has been swaying in favor of the redevelopment project despite past public debate.

“As we move forward on the plan I think that it’s becoming clearer and clearer what an important contribution that 55 Laguna provides for the city of San Francisco,” said Steinert. “It’s one of the best projects that has come along in a very long-time for San Francisco.”

There is no question that more queer retirement housing is needed. The question is where in the dense urban centers to build and how to meet the cost while meeting the demand.

As the first out generation of LGBT seniors redefines retirement, they are finding ways to bring their creative spirit into the process and stay in the cities they love. Returning to the closet isn’t an option.

“Mostly [it’s] going to come in our approach towards life,” said Maupin. “We can’t stop the infirmities that come with age but we don’t have to watch our spirit die in the process.”

For more information about Barbary Lane Senior Communities, visit For more information about Openhouse, visit

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