|Mississippi Valley Company/U.S. Bank||BRIDGE Housing||AHP Award: $415,000|
Located in Oakland's Fruitvale district, St. Joseph's Senior Apartments and Terraza Palmera at St. Joseph's family apartments are a vital part of a community-wide effort to make the Lower San Antonio neighborhood a great place to live, work, and play. The centerpiece of this ambitious BRIDGE Housing development is the preservation and adaptive reuse of a beautiful, five-story, brick masonry Georgian Revival building, built in 1913 by the Little Sisters of the Poor as a convalescent home to care for the poor and sick elderly. Unable to afford the costs of modernization, St. Joseph's Home for the Aged closed in 1979, and since then this historic Oakland landmark had been used intermittently as office space or for other purposes.
“When I heard that Bridge Housing was going to save the building, I was overjoyed. It's a real service to the lives that have been lived here.”
More than 200 people came to celebrate the official grand opening of St. Joseph's Senior Apartments in 2012. One was Sharon Braun, who vividly remembers spending weekends helping the Sisters care for residents when she was a teenager living in the neighborhood. “Under the care of the Little Sisters, it wasn't a place about dying, it was always a place about living,” Sharon says. “When I heard that Bridge Housing was going to save the building, I was overjoyed,” she continues. “It is a real service to the lives that have been lived here, to the people who have surrendered their souls here.”
Reclamation and repurposing of the main building has created 83 comfortable, new affordable rental apartments for low-income seniors, along with 3,200 square feet of commercial space intended for tenants, such as healthcare providers, that will support the seniors. On-site amenities include a spacious community room that opens onto a sunny lobby and a resident's garden, along with common laundry rooms that open onto terraces with decking and benches.
In planning and executing the extensive renovations, including seismic upgrades and asbestos removal, architectural firm Van Meter Williams Pollack carefully preserved the building's character and rich history by salvaging original wood windows and flooring and crown moldings, preserving stained glass windows and terra cotta tile floors, restoring cornices and confessionals, and rebuilding its ornate grand staircase. A wall of historic photographs illustrates the building's past, while a brilliant mural, painted by the Eastside Arts Alliance, highlights the rich cultural diversity that surrounds St. Joseph's and brings the present brightly into focus.
Very much part of the present is resident Eddie G. Lopez, a retired custodian and still-active professional entertainer specializing in impersonations of iconic singers. He performs Elvis Presley, of course, but also Tom Jones, Nat (King) Cole, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Engelbert Humperdink, and the Bee Gees. “My mother took me to a singing contest when I was 4 years old, and I won!” Lopez explains. “I'm looking for a new manager now.” At 70 years young, Lopez keeps fit and ready for the stage by exercising before breakfast and walking for several hours every other day, to shop at the Goodwill store in Alameda.
The décor of Lopez' second floor studio reflects both his personal as well as professional passions: the walls are crowded with assorted mementos of his own performances, photographs of his large family in the U.S. and in his native Philippines, Elvis Presley pictures and other music industry artifacts, commendations for his charitable giving, and religious items. His extensive sneaker and sunglass collections take up most of the surface space beside a modern, open kitchen.
When he applied for one of the brand new units at St. Joseph's, Lopez was paying nearly all of his monthly income in rent for an apartment in downtown Oakland. One of the many benefits of now paying no more than 30% of income in rent is that Lopez is able to support Feed the Children with a regular monthly contribution and to make other charitable gifts whenever there is a calamity somewhere in the world. “Because God said what you do to your neighbor, you do to me,” Lopez explains.
St. Joseph's Senior Apartments was awarded a $415,000 AHP grant in 2008; the adjoining Terraza Palmera family housing project was awarded a $610,000 AHP grant in 2010 and is expected to be completed in October 2013. Both grants were made through U.S. Bank, via its Mississippi Valley Company affiliate. U.S. Bank is also the construction and permanent lender on the St. Joseph's project. Union Bank, another FHLBank San Francisco member, is a major investor in the project, along with the City of Oakland, City of Oakland Redevelopment Agency, and the State of California Multifamily Housing Program.
U.S. Bank was represented at the grand opening by John Chan, Senior Vice President. “As a member of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, we saw an opportunity to provide additional support for the acquisition of an under-used historic building and its substantial rehabilitation into high-quality affordable housing in the heart of Oakland,” Chan says. “And we are thrilled with the result.”