Forty-plus seniors both in and out of wheelchairs socialize in groups of twos and fours in the lobby of AgeSong University. Friday afternoons are happy hour time at the Portola eldercare facility, and the scene is complete with a caterer, and a singer performing lite rock hits.
A rich history
AgeSong University is only one identity in this building's long history of providing shelter for seniors. When it was first established over 130 years ago, it was known as the Lick Old Ladies Home — named after one of San Francisco’s wealthiest men — James Lick.
In the late 1880s, Mr. Lick decided to donate a hefty sum to establish a non-profit residence for aging women of limited means in the Portola District. Historian Kate Connell says that the Lick Old Ladies Home was considered an edge institution — a place for the frail and elderly built at the very far outskirts of San Francisco.
A few years after opening, the home’s directors decided to change the name from Lick Old Ladies Home to University Mound Ladies Home because they thought it would be easier to solicit donations. For decades, residents worked along side the staff, tending the gardens and livestock that would provide that night’s dinner. The home attracted all kinds of women, from stenographers to widows.
Changing with the times
In 2010, the Home started accepting a new kind of resident, because of new laws that dictated that such facilities couldn't discriminate against clients because of gender.
“I was one of the first men here," resident Bruce Bean says.
When Bean arrived, University Mound was in the midst of some major financial problems. Every single person who lived at the home received subsidized rent — it was one of the few eldercare sites in San Francisco for low-income seniors. Providing subsidized care in the face of the rising cost of living in San Francisco exhausted the home’s financial resources.
The home’s board of directors decided to sell the building. Residents received eviction notices and were given 60 days to find new places to live. Occupancy dropped from 75 to just 20 dedicated residents who did not intend to leave. Those remaining residents fought to stay — even going to protest at City Hall. Bruce Bean was one of the protestors.
After summoning both community and political support, AgeSong bought the building and University Mound officially became AgeSong University. The legacy residents continue to receive subsidized care.
A brighter future
Back in the lobby at Age Song, happy hour is winding down. Resident Joann Bedard laughs with her best friend Teresa. They both have big smiles on their faces.
“You know, I've been here forever and I plan to stay forever," Joann happily announces. "As long as [Teresa] can keep my spirits up!"