The proximity to the ocean with its accompanying cool breezes made Seal Beach a desirable location for the construction of one of the first planned active senior retirement communities in the nation. Originally named Rossmoor Leisure World, Seal Beach, the community began in 1960 with national press coverage. The community incorporated two particularly innovative concepts – guard-gated security and on-site medical services. No other planned community offered both of these features.
The first residents moved in on June 6,1962, and the original 6,608 units sold-out by 1964.
The original age requirement was 52 and later became 55. There were approximately 9,400 shareholders and residents, which represent over one-third of the population of the City of Seal Beach. The Federal Housing Administration (now the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD), guaranteed the original 40 year mortgages. Because of its involvement, many fiscal and structural regulations existed. FHA required that Leisure World be annexed to Seal Beach and therefore Leisure World elects two of the five Seal Beach city council members.
In 1962, units sold for about $10,000. Since there were FHA mortgages on the property, down payments averaged $1,600 for a one-bedroom unit and $2,500 for a two-bedroom unit. Monthly payments averaged $125. Fifty-two years later, in 2014, the average monthly payment is $450. The cost of living is 7.76 times higher today than in 1962, meaning that if the community kept up with cost of living increases, the average payment would now be $970 a month. The last Mutual mortgage was paid off in 2004.
The original units were single-story, cooperative, attached, townhouses, with grab bars in the bathroom, raised electrical outlets, wide hallways and other features to make life easier for shareholders as they aged in place.
On-site medical services originally included 10 physicians, 26 nurses, a pharmacy and laboratory with x-ray capabilities. Partial costs were paid by the Golden Rain Foundation with the balance paid by the individual resident. However, incorporating the cost of such a clinic was not feasible in the long term and the passage of Medicare in 1966 ended Golden Rain Foundation’s involvement. Since that time, the Medical Center has been run by Medicare approved professional companies. There was, and continues to be, 24-hour ambulance service that responds in minutes.
With only 541 acres, hemmed in by other developments, Leisure World, Seal Beach opened with a nine-hole golf course, swimming pool, therapy pool, three clubhouses, two woodworking shops, pool and billiard rooms, art, ceramic and lapidary studios as well as shuffleboard, horseshoe and Roque courts. The Amphitheater, with 2,500 seats, has provided free summer shows for over 50 years.
To develop a sense of community, a weekly newspaper originally called, Rossmoor Leisure World News was delivered free of charge. A year after opening there were 23 clubs. Over the next 52 years that grew to over 250 clubs.
Since 1962 Leisure World has been an organic, growing community adapting to keep up to the times.
1. From Sun Cities to the Villages, Judith Ann Trolander, University Press of Florida, Gainesville, FL, 2011.
2. Seal Beach Leisure World sales brochure, Brochures, Inc. Los Angeles, 1975
3. Leisure World sales brochure, circa 1964