Twelve Oaks – Built by Charity, Sold for Profit
The story of Twelve Oaks Lodge has a beautiful beginning and a sad and angry end. Its origins lie in the altruistic views of James and Effie Fifield of Minneapolis. I picked up their story of generosity from several articles written by Katherine Yamada last year in the Glendale NewsPress.
James Fifield was a successful lawyer and businessman who headed several companies and civic organizations. He made a good enough living so that he and his wife could flee the harsh winters of Minnesota for the eternal sunshine of California, specifically the Crescenta Valley. They purchased a comfortable oak-shaded home with acreage in Verdugo City at 2820 Sycamore Ave. While here they became involved with a charity group called the International Sunshine Society whose aims were to “bring sunshine into the hearts and lives of those less fortunate.”
The Fifields started a local chapter with the aim of providing low-cost home-like housing for the elderly “who can be made happy by our particular brand of sunshine.” Their dream was to turn their own home into an old folks home. When James Fifield died in 1933, Effie began the process of donating their home at no cost to the Verdugo Hills Sunshine Society, and by 1935 it was fully deeded to them. The Sunshine Society was run by a group of community volunteers (including Effie), some of whose names still resonate in the valley today such as the Bonettos and the Anawalts. They constructed the various cottages that still stand today, filled them with local elderly who were charged a nominal sum, and provided entertainment and social activity for them. Facilities provided by the Sunshine Society included a library, a recreation room, croquet courts and over five acres of oak-shaded parkland. Their fundraising included other acts of charity in the valley such as offering help for local needy families.
In 1963, the National Charity League of Glendale raised over $50,000 to fund a new retirement home in Glendale. Impressed with the Sunshine Society and Twelve Oaks, they instead decided to donate the entire sum to them, building Stern Hall at Twelve Oaks, a residence hall specifically for elderly women. Sensing a kindred spirit in the Charity League, the Sunshine Society decided to merge with the Glendale Charity League and entrust ownership to them. The Charity League ran Twelve Oaks until about 10 years ago when the facility was bought by Southern California Presbyterian Homes that own a couple dozen other facilities.
It’s here that the story sours, ending with the ugly sale. Recently Presbyterian Homes decided it didn’t want to put any more money into the aging Twelve Oaks. It began, in secret, to find a developer to sell to. It would still be secret today if sharp-eyed neighbors hadn’t noticed surveyors at Twelve Oaks and investigated on their own.
When I called the Presbyterian Homes spokesman before the story broke, his first question to me was a suspicious, “How did you find out?” It was immediately after that call that the residents were finally told they had two months to get out, 60 days being the legal minimum.
Under Presbyterian Homes’ ownership, there have been a couple of permitted enlargements to the facility, giving lie to the rumor that Glendale wouldn’t give them building permits. As well, in 2009, with Glendale’s help, it applied for $85 million in low cost loans through California redevelopment funds (our tax dollars). Last year, Southern California Presbyterian Homes changed its corporate moniker to the ridiculous “be.group.” I’ve had an ugly thought about that. Perhaps knowing then that the closing of Twelve Oaks would bring a storm of bad PR, they wanted any religious affiliation off their name – maybe to avoid any uncomfortable, “What would Jesus do?” concepts being tossed their way?
So the seniors are out. Presbyterian Homes is looking forward to a nice profit, and the community faces a developer that will undoubtedly use every variance in the books to maximize the number of units.
And the generous James and Effie Fifield who donated Twelve Oaks to the community are probably spinning in their graves.