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The Hotel Oakland Village Supports Aging in Place

Image of Cynthia Campbell, Director of PD&R's International and Philanthropic Affairs Division.Cynthia Campbell, Director of PD&R's International and Philanthropic Affairs Division.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Calvin Johnson and I recently visited the Hotel Oakland Village in downtown Oakland, California. Two approaches to aging in place that the U.S.-Japan Aging in Place Research Project is studying are the Village and naturally occurring retirement community (NORC) models. These models help seniors age in place without the need for costly managed care facilities. The Hotel Oakland Village is a stellar example of the Village model, and we wanted to get a firsthand look at its good work.

The building opened in 1912 as a luxury hotel occupying an entire city block in downtown Oakland. The interior was stunning, with chandeliers, spectacular furnishings, and a lobby ceiling finished in gold leaf. The hotel hosted numerous dignitaries through the years, including four presidents: Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who visited in 1939 to see the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. Other dignitaries included Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, who stayed there during World War I to promote Liberty Bonds. Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Sarah Bernhardt, Jean Harlow, and Lily Langtry were also notable guests.

The hotel closed during the Great Depression and reopened in 1943 as a hospital for veterans. After the hospital closed in 1963, the building remained vacant for the next 15 years. The city of Oakland considered demolishing the building; thankfully, it did not. On December 18, 1979, Hotel Oakland was designated Oakland Landmark #31 and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Real estate investor Bill Langelier and his partners purchased the landmark hotel in 1979 with the goal of creating an affordable housing option for seniors. Today, the old hotel consists of 400 units of project-based affordable housing for senior citizens; the average resident's age is 81. Langelier noticed that the seniors living in the building were not interacting with each other, instead isolating themselves in their apartments. In 2011, he came up with the idea of forming a Village that would offer not only health and wellness outreach but also social activities, which would take place in the grand lobby of the old building. Residents, who have to walk through the lobby to get to their apartments, would see the activities and feel welcome to participate. During our visit, a tai chi class was taking place in the lobby.

The building is much more than just housing. Located on the first floor of the building is the Hong Fook Community Based Adult Services Center, an adult day care center. Seniors from the surrounding neighborhood as well as building residents may use the center. The Village also operates a highly successful health and wellness program. Each resident can participate in a personalized wellness plan administered by an onsite wellness nurse navigator who is within easy reach of every resident.

The building also hosts 15 resident-managed health groups that encourage residents to be socially active and take better care of their health. Some of the groups focus on fall prevention, healthy eating, maintaining a healthy mind, neighbors helping neighbors, personal safety, mahjong, karaoke, dance, and gardening. The most popular group is the health and wellness connection group, which assists seniors with healthcare services and case management. Some of the other services the Village provides are free weekly distribution of groceries from the local food bank, help with understanding doctors’ recommendations, post-hospital support, health resource directory assistance, and health screenings such as blood pressure monitoring, diabetes testing, fall prevention and balance testing, and flu shots.

The key to Hotel Oakland Village’s success has been resident participation. Each floor has a volunteer resident “floor captain” who encourages residents to participate in various activities. Residents who participate in activities are often given a token gift, such as a ramen noodle package. Although small, the gifts help bring the residents out of their apartments and into the grand lobby. The Village features plenty of other open spaces where residents can meet for activities; the old men's-only cigar club room, richly paneled in dark wood, now serves as a game hall with a pool table.

Hotel Oakland Village is an excellent example of what can be accomplished when a multifamily senior housing complex incorporates the Village concept.