Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Retirement Communities Have Long Storied Pasts (Part Two of Two)


In part one of this blog, I talked about my love of history and the interesting discoveries I made about Front Porch communities when I became communications director seven years ago. I talked about our oldest retirement community Fredericka Manor and its association with the inventor of the roller bearing Henry Timken. I talked about Wesley Palms and its connection with famed horticulturist Kate Sessions. I also talked about Kingsley Manor, one of Hollywood’s first retirement communities and how it was built before the town was known for its soundstages and back lots.

For part two, I’ll continue the journey and talk about a retirement community that was at one time the playground for Hollywood’s elite, made famous by some very special water.

Although Carlsbad By The Sea celebrates 12 years as a luxury state-of-the-art retirement community, it has a long history of not only serving seniors but also for being a world class destination for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars and military families.

The Carlsbad-California Mineral Springs Hotel opened in the late 1880s. Back then, according to a newspaper article in the San Diego Union, the resort offered hot and cold mineral and fresh water baths. The four-story hotel, with 85 guest rooms, boasted full furnishings “with all modern conveniences,” reported the San Diego Union in 1890.

Guests were charged $2 per day with special rates for families. A hotel brochure informed guests: “The Carlsbad waters come forth from the bosom of nature. Already many arise and call the American Carlsbad blessed.”

Visitors from across the country made their way to Carlsbad lured by the community’s charm. Celebrities like Greta Garbo and the Barrymore family made frequent visits in the 1930s when a second hotel offered Swedish massage.

The hotel suffered tough times during the Depression but saw a boon during World War II when the hotel was filled to capacity with families of military officers who were stationed at nearby Camp Pendleton.

In 1956, Lutheran Services bought the hotel and transformed it into a retirement community which offered residents the same resort-like services. In 1964, California Lutheran Homes acquired the property. By the early 1990s, CLH decided to raise the old buildings and begin anew. Taking its cues from the luxury hotel it once was, the new Carlsbad By The Sea which opened in 1999 replicates the unique mission style architecture of the original structure.

Let’s move from California to Louisiana and Florida for some history about Cecil Pines and England Oaks. These two adult living communities have a unique history. Unique, because they were the first retirement communities in the history of the US to be housed on former military bases.

The pioneering idea to create retirement communities from former officer military housing on these two bases was the brainchild of Front Porch partner, California Lutheran Homes and Community Services. It was originally known as Alexandria Army Air Base when it opened on October 21, 1942 in Alexandria, Louisiana. On June 23, 1955, it was renamed England Air Force Base in honor of Lt. Col. John Brooke England, commander of the 389th Fighter Bomber Squadron, who died in a F-86 crash while in France.

In 1992, England Air Force Base was officially closed and California Lutheran Homes and Community Services, leased the land in 1996 and began an exciting renovation of the former officer housing and landscape, resulting in England Oaks Adult Living Community. One hundred-year-old oak and almond trees still provide shade to residents.

Cecil Pines has a similar story. Commissioned in June, 1941 as Cecil Naval Air Field, activity at the base ramped up later that year following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. And in the early 1960s, it was RF-8 Crusaders from VFP-62 out of Cecil Field that detected the presence of missiles and monitored the Soviet buildup during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But after almost 50 years of service, California Lutheran Homes and Community Services once again leased the land and in 2000 opened Cecil Pines Adult Living Community which still houses military families, many of whom were stationed and lived at the base.

Moving back to California, the city of Claremont is the home to seven world class institutions of higher learning known collectively as the Claremont Colleges. The city is also home to Claremont Manor Retirement Community. How are the two connected? Well, Russell K. Spitzer, the founder of Spitzer College, was the cousin of Lee Spitzer, a prominent Claremont citrus rancher who donated the 10-acre site on which Claremont Manor Retirement Community now stands. In fact, with dedication ceremonies planned for April 30, 1949, it was Pitzer who took matters into his own hands when he realized just days before dedication ceremonies the community was “surrounded by black dirt, blacker mud and some orange trees.” With a sledge and a team of ranch horses Spitzer, by the Saturday afternoon of the dedication, had smoothed a road from Harrison Avenue south to the front entrance of the Manor.

With glorious flower arrangements from local Claremont businesses adorning the third-floor hall, Claremont Manor was officially born. During the remainder of 1949, the original “Lords and Ladies of the Manor” lived without the amenities of sidewalks and contended with, as one resident put it, “dust when dry and mud when wet.” But the residents numbered 177 by the end of that year, and according to one account, “kept arriving as fast as their rooms were ready. Each new improvement was greeted with joy.”

My final look back at the history of Front Porch communities is my personal favorite … the story of a retirement community located on one of the most picturesque locations on the California coastline – Casa de Mañana in La Jolla.

Casa de Mañana first opened not as a retirement community but as Hotel Casa de Mañana in 1924. The hotel was the dream of Mrs. Isabel Morrison Hopkins. On one sunny La Jolla day while visiting her mother nearby, the Colorado native stood high above the cliffs overlooking the Pacific and envisioned an elegant, luxurious hotel harmoniously situated on the edge of the sea. What Mrs. Hopkins would soon create was much more than a hotel - she created a legend. On July 4, 1924, Hotel Casa de Mañana had its grand opening and the 'House of Tomorrow' began an incredible legacy that continues today.

On that day, the new electric railroad line inaugurated its route between San Diego and La Jolla and the first street lights were installed on Prospect Avenue – two “historic” events that coincided with Casa’s grand opening. Overlooking the sea with picturesque arches, tiled roofs and authentic Spanish architecture (features that still remain today), Casa de Mañana quickly became the social hub of La Jolla.

Social events at Casa ran the gamut from weddings to banquets to civic and social club luncheons to concerts, poetry readings by noted artists and musicians of the day. A headline from La Jolla Light of February 17, 1925 announced: “Casa de Mañana Ball Room Scene of Pretty Valentine Party” and went on to report that Miss Jane Kaftenbach, “the first Valentine of the pageant, was exquisite with her shy, girlish expression and modest demeanor.” Accommodations were exquisite and the cuisine world-class.

And if you talk to some of its retirement community residents today, many remember attending proms and other social events at the hotel. How about that for living history?

In 1953, Hopkins sold the hotel and soon after Casa de Mañana had a second grand opening as a luxurious retirement community with 108 charter members in residence.
So there you have it, a little Front Porch community history. If you would like to learn more about the history of these and other Front Porch communities, you can connect to all of the communities through frontporch.net. Enjoy!

— Mike Martinez