History of Leisure World
Tom Barratt, 2004
I want to thank you for inviting me to speak today. Leisure World has a very unique and interesting history. In the last seven year the current Historical society has done a great deal to preserve and display that history. I would like to share with you both the history of our community and the work of the the Historical Society.
One of the major accomplishments of the Historical society was to prepare a short history of Leisure World Seal Beach. Copies of that brochure are available for everyone at the back of the room. Leisure World Seal Beach is unique first because it was the first community of its kind in the Country as well as being the first of seven Leisure World communities.
Ross Cortese, the designer and developer of Leisure World spend the 1950’s building Rossmoor just to our north. He saw the 541 acres which today are the heart of our Leisure World as an opportunity to develop low cost senior citizen housing. He worked with the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) for over two years to develop the Leisure World concept. In 1960, FHA agreed to insure its first senior citizen development. With that approval, work was started on Rossmoor Leisure World - the original name of today’s Seal Beach Leisure World. One of the major requirements was that the community be annex to Seal Beach.
The project was developed, approved by FHA and financed as “as low income senior citizen housing” but it was advertised as “country club living for seniors 52 year of age and older”. There were none of the qualifying features of today’s low income housing. In fact there was a minimum income requirement just like for any other FHA insured loan.
Rossmoor Leisure World had a number of unique features. It was the largest all electric community ever built up until that time and probably ever. The official spokesman for General Electric -Ronald Reagan was here for the opening. The units were designed for handicapped living. Hall and bathrooms were large. All electric wall sockets were 24 inches off of the floor.
The first residents moved into the community on June 8, 1962. The first 844 units sold in less than eight weeks. The units were advertised at about $10,000 but particularly in 1963 prices varied as did down payments. The down payment was officially $800.00 to $1,200.00 depending on the size of the unit. The monthly payment of about $100.00 covered all services, principal and interest on the loan, property taxes and medical insurance. Medical insurance became as major cost to the corporation and was not repeated in the other Leisure Worlds. Since doctor visits were originally free there were many. Several different features were tried and then Medicare came along. Still in 1986 when the golden Rain Foundation finally brought in an outside company to run the Medical Clinical the annual cost to run the medical operation was two and a half million dollars. Today the community receives almost five hundred thousand dollars in rent on the medical facility.
The original concept for Rossmoor Leisure World was for fourteen parcel or mutuals. Each was to be financed as the previous one was successful. All the mutuals were to be built in the “wheel’ concept as Mutual One was actually constructed. During the sale of Mutual One, it was discovered that the two bedroom units sold better and that the end units near the laundry rooms could be made larger. the design Mutuals 2-14 ( remember there is not Mutual 13) was developed. Mutual 15 was originally proposed as the other nine holes for a golf course but it was decided to develop new styles for the corporation new project Leisure World Laguna Hills. Interestingly by the time Leisure World Laguna Hills was being developed, the corporation had dropped the low income idea. Mutual 16 is composed of the original models for the development. Mutual 17 was development in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when the Hellman family, the original owners of the land decided that they did want some land along Seal Beach Boulevard that they has reserved for commercial development.
The name Golden Rain Foundation came from the Golden Rain tree which Ross Cortese had seen in New Orleans. He bought and planted 2700 Golden Rain trees in the new development. Today very few of the original tree survive. Some new Golden Rain trees have been planted but they were not designed for this area. Like the Golden Rain tree, the original Golden Rain Foundation did not long survive. Ross Cortese originally had the right to appoint all Golden Rain Foundation Board members. As the Golden Rain Foundation and Ross Cortese became more and more focused on the new developments in Laguna Hills and Concord, less and less was done for the Seal Beach residents. By 1965, many leaders of the community felt that there many was going to the new World Corporate Headquarters in Laguna Hills and they had no voice in the community. Rossmoor Leisure World because of the way it was development - one Mutual at a time - found a legal means to separate itself from Ross Cortese and the Worldwide Golden Rain Foundation. In 1966, Seal Beach Leisure World a separate community with no connection to Ross Cortese and the other Leisure Worlds was born.
Today Seal Beach Leisure World has just over 6,600 units and over nine thousand residents. The original move-in age of 52 years was changed because of a California State law in the 1980’s to 55. Units that once sold for $10,000 now sell for over $60,000. With the passage of the years, the pioneers of our community are also passing away. Collecting and preserving our history is the goal of the Leisure World Historical Society.
Todays Leisure World Historical Society is actually the third group to be organized. The first two groups were organized some years ago and never became permanently established. We are fortunate that many of their records were saved by Fred Cooper of the Community Services Department. Fortunately, Fred Cooper over the years saved many pieces of Leisure World History. The present Historical Society was founded in 1993 as the direct efforts of Ken and Claire Walker of Mutual 2. Ken’s parents had been early Leisure World residents.
In 1996, the Historical Society was offered a room in Clubhouse One to use as a museum and to house our growing collection of Leisure World memorabilia. The collection includes a large variety of records, historical objects and personally recollections. All of the editions of the Leisure World NEWS are on file. Scrapbooks, pictures and slides both official and private are stored in the collection. The records and mementos of over fifty clubs are a part of the collections. Some club records are stored with us and others have been given to us permanently. We are currently expanding our video collection. Our most recent addition is a forty-five minute video of the Year 2000 celebration last December 31st.
The collection represents the lives of Leisure World residents. We have over fifty books written by authors who lived in Leisure World. Victor and Mae Ruwe who were original move-ins and very active in a multitude of Leisure World activities until recent gave us a large collection. Victor took thousands of pictures of Leisure World activities and served on the Mutual 15 and Golden Rain Foundation Boards. He was a member of the committee that developed Mutual 17 and had many pictures of the Mutual’s construction. We have also received large collections of material from Ethel Anderson, an early Golden Rain Foundation employee and secretary to the Golden Rain Foundation Board as well as many years later a member of the Golden Rain Board, and from Gordon Lungren , for many years a member of the Golden Rain Foundation Board and past president of the Foundation. We have the records and memorabilia of the Leisure World Lion Club and the Leisure World’s Unity Church. Over 25 oral histories are on file in the museum.
Collecting, cataloging, preserving and exhibiting this material is a major function of the Historical Society. We have a Docent Program for which we are always seeking volunteers to perform this important work. The Leisure World Historical Society’s Museum in Clubhouse One is open from two to four on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. I would invite all of you to stop by an see the museum.
Since it is hard for everyone to visit the museum, some of the items are here today. I hope that you will all take a look at the exhibit, but let me talk about a few of the items on display:
One of our major success stories has been collecting some of the Roosmoor Leisure World china. We are not sure how large the original set was or exactly when it was broken up. We do know that we have over 47 luncheon plate and that the china is Franciscan ware. It was manufactured at Gladding Mc Bean in Glendale, California. We have over a hundred pieces of the china but only one broken and glued back together cup. It is rumored that the china was “borrowed”