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.