Project Details: Long Beach Senior Arts Colony

Builder/Contractor: Cobalt Construction, Simi Valley, Calif.; Architect: Studio One Eleven, Long Beach, Calif.; Developer: Meta Housing, Los Angeles; Landscape Architect: AHBE, Los Angeles; Mechanical Engineer: Donald F. Dickerson Associates, Tarzana, Calif.; Structural Engineer: Nabih Youssef Associates, Los Angeles; 

What We Love:
 5. Market-rate looks, affordable rents. 6. Senior housing that many of us would move into now, if we could.
7. Relevant programming, plus active residents that come up with great activities on their own.

Fostered, Not Forced

The phenomenon of social selectivity, where seniors choose to spend more time with fewer people (those whom they enjoy the most) is a defining feature of growing old. Still, isolation with an older cohort can be a concern. Here are five ways that Long Beach Senior Arts Colony encourages community without forcing it. 

1. Small outdoor rooms are more inviting than one giant courtyard. A linear walk threads together various social areas. One contains a fireplace with seating; another has a barbecue, another a spa.

2. Dogs are social assets. Everyone who has a dog congregates at the podium level, which contains a dog park with artificial turf.

3. The theater includes a communal kitchen with a pass-through to the outside barbecue area. 

4. “Our biggest mistake was not creating enough gardens,” architect Michael Bohn says. The three gardens have become a place where there is something for everyone to do, and a garden club has formed around them.

5. Even with just one parking spot per unit, half aren’t being used because residents can easily hook into public transit, or take a taxi. A shopping club and car pools have formed spontaneously, headed for destinations such as downtown Long Beach and California State University.

This article was featured in our December 2014 issue of BUILDER Magazine.

The Long Beach Senior Arts Colony is the kind of place we all want to spend our retirement years. A modern building rich in character and texture? Check. A youthful environment? Yes. Access to creative pursuits and cultural amenities? Check and check.

Focused on learning and fitness, the 200-unit complex for the 55+ set incorporates art and yoga studios, a performance theater, a classroom, game rooms, a library with a roof deck, and more. Despite initial community opposition, it was entitled in three months and won California’s Prop 1C funding, awarded to development that puts affordable housing near transit. 

Informed of plans for affordable seniors housing, the community imagined an institutional box that would further degrade the area, which hadn’t been developed in years. “The neighbors said, ‘Make it look market rate, or we don’t want it,’’’ says architect Michael Bohn, principal of Long Beach, Calif.–based Studio One Eleven, which designed phase one of the $39 million project. Located across from busy trolley and bus routes at the intersection of Anaheim Street and Long Beach Boulevard, the main building puts the program spaces in glass storefronts on the street. Rising five floors above are residential units—each with a balcony—designed around a south-facing courtyard. Studio One Eleven articulated the building’s corners with color-block fiber-cement and glazing so residents can look up and down the street. Southward, the building steps down to relate to the scale of the neighborhood of one- to three-story buildings.

The location was ideal for an affordable housing project, as it is well-connected to job centers, colleges, hospitals, and the arts. “It made sense to put a lot of density there and have affordable housing as a component,” Bohn says. “On top of that, seniors aren’t as comfortable driving their cars.” 

The project has since spurred private development in the area—and turned neighbors’ heads as well. “Some folks from the wealthier east side of town wanted to live here because of the programs and were disappointed they didn’t qualify,” Bohn says.