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Temperance Union Plans to Shut Retirement Home : Senior citizens: Funding problems doom the facility. It is one of the last in the nation founded by the century-old anti-alcohol organization.

February 27, 1992|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

EAGLE ROCK — The operators of an Eagle Rock retirement home--built 65 years ago by feisty foes of alcoholic beverages--delivered the bad news a few weeks ago: The Woman's Christian Temperance Union Home for Women was closing.

"Everyone was sad," recalled Kathryn Erlandsen, 85, one of about 50 women given two months to find new quarters. "We've been a happy family here. It's hard to make new acquaintances."

And local leaders are lamenting the imminent loss of a historic community fixture--one of four homes for seniors in Eagle Rock.

"I'm very disappointed that this has happened," said Kaye Beckham, immediate past-president of the Eagle Rock Chamber of Commerce. "It's a significant place. . . . We definitely need facilities like that in Eagle Rock--retirement and convalescent homes."

The complex on Norwalk Avenue is one of the last retirement homes in the nation founded by the century-old saloon-bashing group that denounces consumption of alcohol and the "sinful" behavior liquor often provokes, home officials said.

The temperance group was most active in the late 1880s and early 1900s, when its national membership surpassed 700,000. Its leaders say contemporary concerns about drunk driving and alcohol abuse have rekindled interest, and today's membership is about 40,000.

The organization's focus has shifted toward educating young and old alike about the health and safety hazards of drinking alcohol, officials said.

The temperance union built the Eagle Rock complex to house elderly women who had been active in the group and for non-members who could not afford other living quarters.

"There were very few homes that would take these women in," said Margaret Hammarstrom, the home's executive director since 1974.

Before the facility was built, temperance union activist Celia Noll sent members door-to-door with fund-raising requests of $3.65 per household--equivalent to a penny a day for a year.

"On that they built the home," Hammarstrom said.

No woman has ever been turned away from the facility because she was too poor or too old, Hammarstrom said.

"At one time, we had over 45 people who were older than 94 here," she said. "Our eldest person here died at the age of 107."

The home was set up as a financially independent entity that is governed by a board of directors. On Feb. 4, the board decided to close the facility, which is licensed for 117 retirees, because only about half it rooms had been filled in recent years.

The rent does not generate enough funds to cover meals, laundry service, recreation and maintenance of the aging complex, said Edna Young, the home's administrator.

The state aid program that pays the rent for two-thirds of the tenants has been frozen in recent years, officials said. The subsidized tenants pay less than $650 per month. The remaining residents are charged $835 to $1,200, depending on the size of their rooms.

The home's annual insurance bill has more than quadrupled, from $4,000 in 1974 to the $18,000 now.

"It's very simple," Young said. "For years, we've been running at a loss. Not enough people come into the home, no matter how much we advertise."

The main problem, officials said, is that the home cannot compete with more modern centers.

"The majority of the rooms here don't have private bathrooms," Young said. "This place was built dormitory-style" with shared lavatories.

In addition, many other facilities admit both men and women, allowing married couples to stay together. And many homes have vans or buses to take tenants on outings. WCTU residents must rely on public buses or on Dial-a-Ride service.

The home's tenants have learned about these items while searching for new quarters.

"One retirement home pulled up with a limousine to take them to see it," Hammarstrom said.

Although it may lack some conveniences, the Eagle Rock home has its own assets, including lots of personal attention and a family-like atmosphere, tenants say. And many are not eager to leave.

"I'm going to miss the home-type feeling," said Ebba Severance, 81, who is moving to a newer facility in Glendale. "When we get to this age, we don't look forward to change. We just like to think, 'This is it.' "

Miriam Craig, 85, is similarly distressed. After five years at the home, she said, "I had just decided I liked it so well that I could spend the rest of my life here."

Craig said she has had no trouble complying with the home's rules, which include a ban on drinking and smoking.

"In my heyday, I took a cocktail when I wanted and I smoked a cigarette a day," she said. "I gave both up a long time ago."

Hammarstrom said nearly all of the women have found new homes, and there are several prospective buyers for the property. Community leaders are uncertain whether the complex will be renovated or razed.

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