Twelve Oaks Lodge – A Tale of Charity, Betrayal and Resurrection
Twelve Oaks Lodge, a retirement home located at 2820 Sycamore Ave., has a dynamic story that started way back in the 1930s.
It all started with James and Effie Fifield. James was a successful attorney, businessman and publisher in Minneapolis, and his wife Effie, unusual for her time, was one of the earliest female science fiction writers. By the turn of the century, they had become wealthy. They escaped the harsh winters of Minnesota by purchasing a comfortable 13-room home on 4½ acres of oak-covered property here in the Crescenta Valley. While here, they became involved in a charity group, the International Sunshine Society, dedicated “to bring sunshine into the hearts of those less fortunate.” They started a local chapter and by the 1930s they decided to put their money where their mouths were. They would gift their home to the community to become a retirement home for low-income seniors.
In 1935, at the height of the Depression, they donated their home and property to the Sunshine Society creating what we know today as Twelve Oaks Lodge. The local Sunshine Society was made up of a who’s who of local civic leaders, including such familiar names as the Anawalts and the Bonettos. They got busy building cottages and other structures on the Fifield’s property, filling it with local seniors, and created social programs for the residents.
Things went well for several decades. In 1963, the Glendale National Charity League donated $50,000 for a new hall at Twelve
Oaks. The Sunshine Society recognized a kindred spirit in the Charity League, and merged with them. The Charity League successfully ran Twelve Oaks on a non-profit basis for several decades, using it as a base for their charitable works.
By 2000, the Charity League was getting tired (as all volunteer groups do) of managing the property. The Southern California Presbyterian Homes (SCPH) ran a string of non-profit retirement communities, , and the Charity League thought SCPH was perhaps a better-qualified entity to manage Twelve Oaks. And this is where the story gets ugly.
After contracting management of Twelve Oaks to SCPH, the members of the Charity League stepped back while SCPH assumed more and more control over the foundation that held the deed to the property. Maybe the Charity League should have gotten suspicious when SCPH changed its name to the rather anonymous “Be.group” in 2011. In 2013, neighbors of Twelve Oaks noticed surveyors on the property and made some calls. Local newspapers discovered that Twelve Oaks was now in escrow to a developer who was planning to bulldoze the property and build homes. Be.group was selling the Twelve Oaks property! Imagine how many millions of dollars could have been pocketed by Be.group for 4½ acres in the Crescenta Valley!
When the news broke, the action was fast and furious. Be.group enacted a scorched-earth policy by evicting all the residents of Twelve Oaks. The developer bailed, sensing an ugly scene, and the Charity League swung into action. Be.group had bad timing as the Charity League’s board just then included some lawyers willing to take this case pro bono. At the same time the state attorney general began investigating the Be.group. Needless to say, the Charity League won and the Be.group retreated, its tail between its legs. It has since changed its name again.
When the National Charity League retook the property in 2015, it had suffered from Be.group’s deferred maintenance and two years of total abandonment. It needed millions to reopen. The Charity League (a group composed of mothers and daughters working together for charity) got busy raising money and volunteering their labor. Just last year Twelve Oaks was able to reopen as a non-profit retirement home, just as James and Effie Fifield had intended way back in 1935.
The grounds of Twelve Oaks are gorgeous, green and oak-covered, and the Charity League is slowly opening more and more rooms for local seniors. I urge you to check out the Charity League’s work at www.glendale.nationalcharityleague.org and book a tour of Twelve Oaks Lodge at