As a teen-ager, Marjorie Popple, 92, used to hike from Pasadena past acres of poppy fields to the Scripps Home in Altadena, her arms loaded with Christmas baskets for the elderly residents.
"They don't have any legs now," Popple said, referring to automobile-obsessed Californians. "Everybody walked in those days. You weren't going to hitch the horse up, anyways."
These days, Popple resides in the home for the elderly she visited in her youth. In 22 years of continuous residence at Scripps, she has lived through two remodeling projects. And now she is weathering her third: a $3-million expansion to be completed by December.
Despite the plywood boards and plastic sheets that line one side of the dining room, Popple and other residents still sit at tables with white linen tablecloths and wear dresses (shirts and ties for the men)--a dress code voted in by residents.
"The living room is about the same," Popple said of the work, which began in January. "Of course, the wings have all been extended."
When the job is finished, the home will have room for a total of 183 residents: 20 additional people in a new wing for couples and 20 additional spaces in the home's nursing-care wing.
The project has prompted Scripps, a San Gabriel Valley institution since 1911, to seek a more public profile during the last year, said administrator Jim Graunke.
Scripps hopes to secure $1 million in donations toward the construction project. About $300,000 has been obtained so far. But an open house will be held on Founder's Day, Nov. 2, to show off the new work and seek more financial aid.
For most of its life, the home has remained something of a local secret, Graunke said. Scripps has never advertised, nor does it have a marketing staff, yet the wait for admission can stretch up to two years. Locals are eager to enter the stately home, which resembles a museum or fancy old hotel.
Plush green carpet muffles the quick steps of the home's attendants and the slower shuffling of the elderly. A parquet floor graces the entrance to an elevator.
Dark wood antiques line the home's hallways, and oil portraits hang in gilded, rococo frames. On a recent tour of the building, Graunke pointed out a mirror from the home of Revolutionary War leader Aaron Burr and a table from the home of S. F. Smith, who wrote the lyrics to "America."
"I didn't know a thing about antiques until I started working here," Graunke said.
From a balcony overlooking the courtyard, the Los Angeles skyline can be seen, along with the outline of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and, on clear days, the ocean.
Despite the resplendent setting, Scripps residents are not rich, but low- and middle-income people who previously lived in the valley.
"The Scripps Home was set up to be a comfortable home for people who have outlived their money or people with modest funds who served the community and find themselves in need when elderly," Graunke said.
The home was founded in 1911 when Florence Scripps Kellogg persuaded her father, William A. Scripps, a member of the noted newspaper clan, to donate one of his mansions and its surrounding six acres. Originally, it housed only women. In 1922, the mansion was razed and the current complex was built.
Four Levels of Care
Care is provided at four levels, from room-and-board for the ambulatory to nursing care for the bedridden.
Residents enter with a minimum of $2,500 in assets, assign their Social Security payments and other income to the home and receive lifetime-care contracts.
"No one gets a bill who lives here," Graunke said.
The cost for such care averages $90 a day per patient. The home receives about $55 a day from the residents' incomes. The difference is made up by contributions that bolster the home's endowment fund, Graunke said.
Scripps prides itself on never having acquired debt nor having accepted government aid. Indeed, its current expansion was funded entirely out of its endowment, Graunke said, which is why the home is now seeking contributions. The endowment guarantees the lifetime care that Scripps promises to its residents.
Those residents include many well-known locals, like Victoria Noren, 88, who has been at the home for 16 years. In 1936, Noren and her husband started a bakery in Pasadena at the corner of Hill Avenue and Washington Boulevard. Noren's Hillcrest Swedish Bakery remained family-owned until it was sold to new owners two years ago.
Finds Downtown Confusing
Noren said she now finds downtown Pasadena confusing, its row upon row of street-level stores replaced by a shopping mall. She remembers when television was a new invention and people regularly gathered outside a Lake Avenue store to watch a set in the window.
"People would be sitting on little chairs watching television in front of the store," she said. "It was full of us people sitting around there till we got ours."
Popple worked for 37 years in the Model Grocery, a three-story, pre-World War I business on Colorado Boulevard that predated supermarkets.