Das Altenheim in Oakland, about 1894

              The “Altenheim”, whose name means Retirement Home in German, still serves the needs                     of Oakland’s retired. This photo shows the original 19th century building that burned; the    present-day Colonial Revival-style building, replaced this Queen Ann style structure.


Altenheim retireers’ home will close, May 2, 2002

End of an era blamed on antiquated facility, by Laura Casey. Oakland Tribune,

The Altenheim, a 19th century retirement home built for German Americans to live out their retirement days in peace and atop a Dimond Heights hill, is closing its doors forever June 30.

              The news shocked the home’s 70 plus residents, some of whom said they are traumatized to leave the building and say goodbye to their friends.

              “I like older buildings with character as opposed to this slick Miami Beach-type design,” resident Gay Dupree, on accomplished painter, said in the comfort of her small living room inside the Altenheim.

              Elenor Burnaford likes to say that when she moved into the Altenheim 10 months ago, she expected to be taken out of the building tin a wooden box, feet first.

              “No such luck” she said with a sigh. She fed a bougainvillea plant growing outside her window throughout the winter and boasts of an explosive flowering beauty there today.

              She watched as herons landed in “The Altenheim’s” lush gardens, feeding from the fish pond. She made friends that soon became family

              As resident council president she said, moving from The Altenheim is traumatic for all. ”Being uprooted at this age and being on a limited income is especially difficult,” she said.


It is also traumatizing families of Altenheim residents, who say they are really pressed to find affordable care in the area. Many retirement communities required an up-front deposit, sometimes more than $50,000, plus a monthly fee of the very least $1,500.

Text Box:    Altenheim as it is now and plans for the future                Altenheim management is trying to make it an easy transition for residents, their families and also longtime staff. They invited more than 40 care facilities to an open house May 10.

              Still, families of Altenheim residents such as Lisa Nash, whose father lives there, say they are being overwhelmed by retirement homes and care facilities expenses.  

              “I have been a basket case about this the last two weeks,” Nash said.

She is on limited income, her father is on a limited income, and despite pleas of help directed at District 4 City Council candidates, no one is stepping forward to address the complex issue of senior housing in the area.

              “I am appalled, just appalled the city is allowing theAltenheim to shut down,” she said.

According to Altenheim administration and its board, the non-profit retirement home’s infrastructure is outdated and families are choosing more contemporary homes. “While it has the peaceful structure of a wonderful old German house, what it does not have is all the modern amenities that children who are placing older relatives are looking for,” business consultant Sally Holloway of BH Management said.

              The short walkway leading to the front doors of the Altenheim, is decorated with bushes bearing grapefruit sized roses. The magnificent garden sprawling around the Altenheim is a blooming rainbow during spring.

              And when children of aging parents walk into the stately white building, it is like home said General Manager Cathy Hoopaugh.        

              “They like the quaintness of the place, mom likes the feel,” she said. “You walk into and it captivates you, I don’t know why. “

              Yet once families walk into the independent-living-apartments or full service rooms, the smiles often turn into frowns.              

              The bathrooms are heirlooms, hardly compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. And barely enough room for a resident and his or her helper, Hoopaugh said.

              Antique radiators heat rooms from a boiler system, and children of aging parents worry their loved ones may burn themselves on them, she added.

               “ The infrastructure of the building is deteriorating because it is so old,” Hoopaugh said.

                            It also does not have kitchenettes, an offering common in new homes.

              “If you were to look at it in 1950, you would see a modern facility, but not in the year 2002,”Hoolaway said.

              The home can not attract enough residents to stay in business.

The Altenheim was a young buck at the turn of the century, when it was Deutsches Altenheim. The Altenheim was conceived in 1880 when wealthy San Francisco Germans formed the Altenheim association and saw a need for a German old people’s home.

              Adolph Sutro offered free land on Sutro Heights, which the group gracefully turned down. San Francisco was too wild with Barbery Coast fever to host a suitable home for the German elders. It was also cold year-round and the frequent earthquakes and fires were additional drawbacks.

               The group eventually purchased land atop a hill in Oakland for $6,000, overlooking cherry orchards, fruit trees and four beer gardens.

              The original building coast about $ 40,000 and took a year to build. After surviving the 1906 earthquake, it burned to the ground in 1908. A year later it was rebuilt and remains that way today, save for decades of remodeling and upgrades.

              A balcony on the eastern side of the building leads to a zigzag path in the garden. The grandiose dining hall with wooden ceiling beams decorated red and green, has the Hofbrauhaus feel – perfect for the retirement home’s annual Oktoberfest celebration.

Text Box:                The Altenheim’s controlling board voted April 24 to close the place after the association membership told the board it no longer wanted to be in the retirement home business.

              “We decided we probably shouldn’t continue the uphill Text Box: battle,” board vice president Martin Silge said. “I don’t think there is any person on the board who really wanted to see it shut down, but the consensus on the board is that it is a loosing proposition.”

              Fixing the place up would cost millions of dollars, and Silge said the board may not earn the money back charging higher rents. The Altenheim which is open to people of all nationalities, boast some of the retirement home rents in the region- $ 1,800 a month for some assisted living units, and no by-in was required. Silge said good planning 10 years ago could have saved the building, but the Altenheim was rife with mismanagement then. It was under state scrutiny in 1994 after four administrators resigned in two years, three of whom quit because of differences with the board over management of the facility.

              There are no plans for the building after it closes. The German American Culture Center will resume classes.