It was in the late 1950's when building developer Ross Cortese saw 541 undeveloped fields as an ideal location for a housing project. He dreamed transforming those fields into a Leisure World where senior citizens could enjoy life a new with comfort, security and dignity.
As a successful builder, he saw a void in the housing market and intended to fill it.
An early sales brochure describes Leisure World as "the country club city for happy people 52 years of age and older." In the beginning, cooperative apartment sold for $9,000 to $11,000 with down payments ranging from $680 to $769. The monthly payments of $92.50 to $103.50 covered all services, as well as principle, taxes, insurance and medical insurance. Prospective buyers were informed that Seal Beach Leisure World would free them from landscape maintenance. Their new apartments had all electric appliances, as well as extra-wide halls, sit down showers, individually temperature controlled rooms, electric sockets 24 inches above the baseboards and private patios and gardens. The community would have three clubhouses (a forth was added in 1974 and a fifth in 1997), an amphitheater, a nine-hole golf course, its own bus transportation system, and a nearby shopping center, rolled curbs, extra-wide sidewalks and a security force.
Cortese spent two years researching this project before obtaining financing to build. The Federal Housing Administration (today called HUD) backed the cooperative housing venture by guaranteeing 40-year mortgages. Construction began in 1960 on the first parcel of land consisting of 844 units. It sold out in just nine weeks, and a fast selling pace continued until completion. Each parcel was developed as a corporation until 15 were developed (now called Mutual, there was no #13 and in 1980 Mutual 17 was organized). The first residents moved in on June 8, 1962. By November 1962, the development had over 3,000 residents, and by March 1963, there were 4,418 units sold. Because of the government-guaranteed loans, there were many regulations on how the money was to be used. FHA requirements included being linked to an established city, so Leisure World became annexed to Seal Beach.
The Seal Beach Leisure World community has a unique organizational structure. Each resident purchased a share of stock in a Mutual Corporation and another share in the Golden Rain Foundation. A new buyer paid cash to the seller for the shares of stock, which permitted occupancy of the apartment. The new resident makes monthly payments to the Foundation, who then prorates a portion to the Mutual for service of the mortgage payment carried by the Corporation, as well as for the maintenance of the property.
The Golden Rain Foundation is a non-profit corporation established for the upkeep of the common areas and properties: the main streets, the golf course, the clubhouses, amphitheater, exercise room, library, and administration buildings as well as an on-site Post Office.
The original plan to fund a private on-site medical clinic staffed with doctors, nurses, and various specialists turned out to be cost prohibitive. This plan was replaced by a contract with the Los Alamitos Medical Center to manage the Leisure World Health Care Center (HCC). The HCC provided 24-hour emergency service and regular medical care. Construction was completed on a new medical building in November 1998.
In the beginning, the community was governed by a Golden Rain Board of Directors appointed by the developer. By 1964, a large group of residents had a growing concern that the builder's interest was in conflict with the residents'. They called for a reformation and were successful in replacing the original directors with elected residents. This fundamental change continues to exist today, making Seal Beach Leisure World unique among similar communities.
The Golden Rain Foundation Board is made up of one to two elected residents per Mutual. This Board is responsible for the community-wide facilities and the overall operation of the community. Committees are organized with board members and are the work groups involving various issues, projects, fact finding and policy decisions. Committees include executive, finance, medical, physical property, publications, library, recreation, bus & traffic, and security.
Why the Golden Rain Foundation? According to a story published in one of the first
issues of the Golden Rain News, the Golden Rain tree is small with bright yellow flowers hanging in dropping clusters. The seeds grow in pods that hang on the tree until new growth appears. It is described as a gorgeous tree when in bloom because the brilliant blossoms hanging in clusters from the drooping branches can be likened to "golden rain." It was in New Orleans that the developer first saw a Golden Rain tree and fell in love with its beauty. He wanted these trees to be a symbol of the community he was planning for senior citizens. Determined that the tree could live in Southern California, he ordered 2,700 to be sent to a nursery in Chino, California where they were carefully nurtured until they were ready to be planted in Seal Beach Leisure World. Time took its toll on these trees and today only three of the originals grace the property. Mutual 15 added 20 on these trees in 1995.
For over 50 years, "the country club city for happy people" has continued to run smoothly with only minor changes. The developer's dream of a Leisure World is a success story. While the residents are willing to volunteer their time and talents, they carry the responsibility for running a community with the goal of providing the best possible living conditions for its fellow residents.
Disclaimer: Leisure Living Resales is an independent real-estate agency specializing in assisting with the buying and selling of properties in and about the Seal Beach Leisure World Community. "Leisure World" is a registered trademark owned by RRLH, Inc. Leisure Living Resales is not affiliated with RRLH, Inc. or Leisure World.