By Lucinda Ryan
Article Last Updated: 10/24/2008 09:05:52 AM PDT
The refurbished apartments at the former Lake Merritt Hotel in Oakland are now open for retirement living, though residents need not be retired to settle in. Nor do they need to be lesbian, gay, straight or transgender.
They need only to want to live in a diverse community within one building, a community modeled on author Armistead Maupin's fictional series, "Tales of the City."
Maupin's characters all lived in a San Francisco apartment on Barbary Lane. It was a place where homosexuals and heterosexuals — young and not so young — built friendships and camaraderie and no lines were drawn on which lifestyle was acceptable. Everyone was accepted.
So goes the philosophy at today's real-life Barbary Lane Senior Communities, where, say representatives of the 46-unit Art Deco historical building at 1800 Madison St., aging baby boomers can live in a "richly diverse community."
"The conformist generation is diminishing," said Dave Latina, president of Barbary Lane Senior Communities, at a grand opening event held Thursday. He spoke of long-retired GIs who were accustomed to taking directions and not rocking the boat, and pointed out that baby boomers (defined by the U.S. Census as those born from 1946 to 1964) have a far different take on life.
And to demonstrate the point, Thursday's event included an appearance by Maupin, who said he didn't want to live in the kind of place where his grandma died or where his Aunt Nancy, who retired in North Carolina, had to "sneak her high school sweetheart in so she could get a cuddle from time to time."
But Maupin said what really sold him on having his name and lore attached to Barbary Lane Senior Communities were the rooms themselves.
"I could live here," he said, speaking of the apartments' ambience and of the convenience of having housekeeping and room service.
He said when he tells his friends — gay, lesbian or straight — about the building and amenities, "it's my heterosexual female friends who get the most excited about it."
The apartments went on the market in June, but because it takes time for people to make moving arrangements, there are currently only two residents living there.
Lorraine Hall, 83, is one of them. She had been on a TV talk show with Maupin to talk about transgender people like herself, who was born a male but always felt like a female.
She remained in the closet, marrying at 23 and having three children. The family lived in the East Bay, where Hall was a mechanical engineer until retirement, and then a teacher of computer-assisted design in adult school and high school for a few years.
In 1953, she saw a headline about a GI who became a woman. That GI was Christene Jorgensen, who became famous for her public story of transforming her male body to female to become the gender she had always felt she was.
"What could I do?" she said. "I was with a woman I loved dearly, and we had a 5-month-old infant."
At 60, after she heard a radio talk show with transgender guest speakers, she partially came out of the closet, still protecting her children by keeping her plans to herself but eventually doing what Jorgenson had done — getting hormone treatments, surgery and cosmetic tweaks, including getting rid of facial hair. The program offered information about a support group, which she joined.
Her wife died after 58 years of marriage, and, at age 74, Hall had surgery. Though she still protects her children from public scrutiny, she has been more open about her transgender, to the point of appearing on TV with Maupin, who mentioned the upcoming Barbary Lane Senior Communities.
That, Hall said, is where she wanted to go and that is where she is happy now, feeling completely accepted.
"Barbary Lane is a different thing," she said. "It's a new life for me and it's a very wonderful feeling."
More than 20 people have signed the waiting list. Representative Bob Prettyman said it may take 18 months before the apartments are filled. Until then, Executive Extended Stay has a contract to rent the apartments.
For more information, go to www.barbarylanesenior.com or call 510-903-3600.
If you go
Grand opening events are scheduled from today through Sunday at Barbary Lane Senior Communities, 1800 Madison St., Oakland. They are:
Today: Big Band and swing music from 5:30 to 8 p.m. in the Terrace Room. Entrance is $19.43 for people 65 and older; $25 for those younger.
Saturday: Golden age memories from 6 to 8 p.m. featuring Coco Lopez, the Oakland-East Bay Gay Men's Chorus and musician and opera singer Leslie Hassberg. Free with RSVP (call 510-903-3600 to RSVP).
Sunday: Jan Wahl's "Food and Wine in Film" from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the Terrace Room. $19.43 for 65 and older, $25 for younger.
All events are open to the public, but space is limited. Call 510-903-3600 to reserve.