LAGUNA NIGUEL — When Linda Humes' mother, Ann, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease six years ago, Linda hoped to care for her mother, but because she worked full time, she couldn't provide the round-the-clock care that Ann needed.
Faced with the realization that she had to find some kind of care facility for her mother, Humes spent the next six months checking out places near her Laguna Beach home. But nothing satisfied her.
"I was horrified by what I saw," Humes says. "There was nothing good enough for my sweet mother. Some places were clean but impersonal; other places were homey but not kept up, or they served poor-quality food. The larger care facilities seemed institutional.
"I knew exactly what I wanted for my mom--a real 'home,' with loving caretakers and residents who are treated like family instead of as patients or clients. A home with cozy, comfortable furniture, a fire in the fireplace and good food cooking in the kitchen."
But Humes couldn't find what she had in mind. So she and her friend Dale Johnson created their own vision of a "home for older people"--Seaside Terrace in Laguna Niguel.
"We wanted to provide a place where older people could keep their dignity," Humes says. "What most people don't realize is that older people are exactly like us, only older. They don't feel their age. Everyone is the same age in their eyes."
Johnson and Humes searched for a house that would meet specific needs--a single-level structure with wide hallways, fire exits and five bedrooms--and would conform to the regulations of the Department of Social Services (the agency responsible for licensing board-and-care facilities).
After looking at nearly 100 houses, they found a custom-built home tucked into an upscale residential neighborhood in Laguna Niguel. The house on Seven Seas Drive was open, airy and spacious enough for six residents, which is the maximum number of people allowed to live in a small board-and-care home in a residential community.
It also had a kitchen built to really cook in, a large living room with a fireplace, a view of the ocean and space in the yard to plant flowers and an herb garden.
"We planted flowers all around the house and hung bird feeders on the patio just outside the kitchen window. We also planted an herb garden so we can use fresh herbs in our cooking," Johnson says.
"Especially appealing was a paved walkway that surrounded the exterior and the way the house was U-shaped around a central courtyard," Humes says.
They asked the Department of Social Services and the fire department to inspect the house before they bought it.
"We wanted to avoid any problems. They were really helpful," Humes says. "They approved of the house and told us exactly what we needed to do to it to get our license."
The house required a few modifications to meet certain board-and-care licensing requirements, such as having two exits for each bedroom (one leading outside) and hallways wide enough to accommodate wheel chairs.
Johnson and his father, David, a local builder, worked for 3 1/2 months to complete the required remodeling, and they split a large family room into a fifth bedroom and a den that comfortably holds a TV, sofa and two side chairs.
Humes and Johnson decorated the house with warm, comfortable furnishings purchased at local auctions. Johnson, a skilled craftsman, reupholstered much of the furniture. For fabric, they used Ann's curtains that Humes had been saving.
Seaside Terrace opened in April, 1986, and Humes' mother was the first resident.
Today five other people share the Seven Seas Drive home with her. And a few blocks away, in a second house purchased three years ago, are six more residents. Johnson supervises the original house and Humes oversees the second one.
"Everyone thinks of Seaside Terrace as one big family," Johnson says. "And everyone here has a feeling of safety and real security."
On Sundays at 1 p.m., residents from both houses gather at the Seven Seas house for the main meal of the day. Sean Pendergraph, 22, who has been assisting at Seaside Terrace for the past year, says, "The Sunday meals get pretty lively with some people discussing politics and things like that."
On the other days, Pendergraph helps serve dinner at the second house on Mediterranean Drive.
"After dinner, I usually play Lawrence Welk and Guy Lombardo albums and (residents) Dorothy Houser and Sidney Shaw dance. I watch sports with (resident) Ernie Petersen--baseball, the Clippers or the Lakers. Basically, I entertain everyone and make sure they are all having a good time," he says.
"This is kind of like taking care of your grandparents," Humes says. "We get them to appointments--doctors, physical therapists, hairdressers and so on. The families come to visit. They can drop in any time of the day or night and are always welcome for meals."
Some of the relatives, like Jim Whitmore Jr., admit to dropping in around meal time because the food is so good.