Hoping to “revolutionize senior housing,” three openly gay housing specialists announced today the opening this fall of one of the country’s first urban independent-living communities for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) seniors—in the historic landmarked Lake Merritt Hotel.

The project, Barbary Lane Communities at Lake Merritt, takes its name from the address of the lively community in the book “Tales of the City” by San Francisco novelist Armistead Maupin.

Armistead Maupin
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Maupin himself was on hand at today’s announcement to share his enthusiasm.

Although “the elegant old building” of the Lake Merritt Hotel is itself “a stunner,” Maupin said, the new community’s “true beauty lies in its intention.” Like the fictional community at 28 Barbary Lane, the new community will be “a place where every letter of LGBT (and their straight friends, of course) can live life to the fullest and love without boundaries.”

Dave Latina, president of Barbary Lane Communities, said that:

The main reason we created Barbary Lane Senior Communities was to create a senior housing community where not only are LGBT seniors accepted but where we embrace them for who they are.

And right now there is no place for us where we can live our retirement years out, stay engaged in our urban communities, and continue to grow in an LGBT-sensitive, caring, and vibrant community.

Closets are for clothes, not for seniors. And, I hope you’ll agree, Randi [Gerson, the architect on the team] did a great job with our closets—they’re really fabulous!

According to the Gay & Lesbian Atlas, which is based on 2000 Census data, Oakland is rated as #1 for its lesbian population among the nation’s top-50 cities and #3 for its combined gay and lesbian population.

Latina emphasized that seniors in Barbary Lane would not be isolated or cut off from the larger community. “The door swings both ways,” Latina said.

Lake Merritt Hotel
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The restaurant—formerly Madison’s, now renamed Madrigal’s after a Tales of the City character—has floor-to-ceiling glass windows offering panoramic views of Lake Merritt and the Oakland Hills. Jeffrey Dillon, Barbary Lane’s Chief Operations Officer, explained that it will be open to the public for lunches, Sunday Brunch, and special events. A social club, the Barbary Club, will provide an additional way for people in the larger community not living in Barbary Lane to nevertheless take an active part in its activities (including dinner, with reservations, at Madrigal’s).

The Art Deco building of the Lake Merritt Hotel was designed in 1927 by locally prominent architect William Weeks. The building had a brush with death in 1987, when it was marked for demolition. As reported by Annalee Allen, outraged preservationists won a 60-day delay.

Lake Merritt Hotel circa 1973
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Ultimately the building was sold to Cheryl and Randall Berger, who restored it in 1990 and renovated and refurbished it again in 2000. The Bergers remain involved as investors in Barbary Lane Communities.

Barbary Lane Communities at Lake Merritt will have 46 units—almost all with views of the city skyline or of Lake Merritt—of three apartment types. A model one-bedroom, with approximately 800 square feet, and a model studio, with approximately 525 square feet, were on display today.

Membership in Barbary Lane includes two meals per day, transportation, and housecleaning and concierge services. Rental prices are “comparably priced” to other independent-living communities, according to Latina, at approximately $3300 per month for the studio and $4300 for the one-bedroom apartment.

Randi Gerson, a principal of Barbary Lane Communities, emphasized that the project would “integrate holistically green principles of management and construction.” This principle would manifest itself, she said, in choices ranging from energy-efficient appliances, non-toxic materials and supplies, to the hybrid-powered vehicle used for residential transportation.

Although this will be the first Barbary Lane community, Latina says it will not be the last. He’s planning to bring Barbary Lane Communities to other urban centers “where most of our LGBT community resides in California and throughout the United States.” The company is looking for additional properties to develop in San Francisco, Palm Springs, Los Angeles, San Diego, and New York.

Latina spoke personally about what this project means for him:

Twenty-two years ago as a young gay man struggling for acceptance in the Midwest, I first read about such an embracing community in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. But it was only a fictional place called Barbary Lane.

Many of us moved to the Bay Area in search of such a community. I never imagined that 22 years later I would be meeting with Armistead Maupin and discussing how similar our shared visions were about what such a community could mean for our LGBT seniors. Today is the first chapter in that fiction becoming a reality here at Barbary Lane Communities.

More information about the project is available at www.barbarylanesenior.com.