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Home for Radicals to Stay Open for Now

March 20, 1990|DAVID HALDANE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sunset Hall's administrator and nearly the entire Board of Directors of the Mid-Wilshire District retirement home for aging radicals resigned en masse Monday, virtually ensuring the facility's doors will stay open for now.

Ten of the 12 board members resigned, said their attorney, James Maupin, because it seemed they "would almost certainly have been outvoted" at a special April 1 membership meeting to decide the retirement home's future. Set up as a nonprofit corporation, the facility is governed by a dues-paying membership that elects its Board of Directors.

"I'm elated," said Michael Schaffer, head of a committee dedicated to keeping the home open and one of the two board members who did not resign. "This is a victory, but it's tempered by the fact that we now have the profound responsibility of preserving (Sunset Hall.)"

Founded in 1924 by members of the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, the retirement home--which for the last 25 years has been located on Francis Avenue in the Mid-Wilshire District--was established to house elderly "religious liberals," who shared the Unitarians' philosophy of intellectual open-mindedness, religious tolerance and social activism. Over the years the home, which became something of a Los Angeles institution, has housed some of the city's best-known radicals.

But in recent years, the number of occupants dwindled, creating severe financial problems that last year prompted the board's majority to move that the facility be closed. Recently, the board accepted an offer from a developer to purchase Sunset Hall for $1.2 million and told residents they must be out by March 22.

The reaction was immediate. Arguing that not enough had been done to recruit new residents, board members Schaffer and Ethel Lake launched an immediate drive to raise funds, find new residents and attract voting members to the corporation who share their commitment to keeping the facility open.

Earlier this month a Los Angeles judge issued a temporary restraining order postponing the sale or closure on the grounds that it might not represent the will of the majority of the corporation's voting members, while the board agreed to hold a special meeting on April 1 to allow the members to vote.

By this week, Maupin said, it had become clear to the board's majority that its battle was lost. As of Saturday night, he said, the ranks of voting members, who pay $35 a year for their status, had swollen from 291 a few weeks ago to 478--most of them recruited by supporters of Schaffer and Lake. "Our information," Maupin said, "was that the new members brought in would have translated" into defeat for the board.

Schaffer said he and Lake would meet today to appoint new board members to complete the terms of those who resigned. High on the new group's list of priorities, he said, will be fund-raising and resident recruitment for the 32-bed facility that costs about $300,000 a year to operate, is down to its last nine residents and by month's end, according to Maupin, will be down to its last $15,000.

But Schaffer says he believes his group can turn things around. Already, he said, the committee has collected nearly $15,000 in donations, with money still pouring in. In addition, he said, the new board plans to streamline operations and undertake an aggressive recruitment effort by advertising at doctors' offices, senior citizen centers and Unitarian churches.

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