Expansion at The White Sands

After more than 10 years of planning and four years of construction, The White Sands of La Jolla will officially dedicate its new East Campus from 3 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 18 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, fanfare, music, food and tours.

A provider of residential, assisted living and skilled nursing services for seniors for more than 50 years, White Sands is part of a conglomerate of 25 not-for-profit retirement communities operated by Southern California Presbyterian Homes. The conglomerate provides housing to more than 3,000 seniors, 1,400 of whom receive rent subsidies. Its mission is to “provide quality housing, health, and support services, primarily for older adults of all faiths, that enrich the physical, social, and spiritual dimensions of their lives.”

Located on eight acres of oceanfront property, White Sands has been an icon in the Jewel since opening in 1956. Over the years, the institution has added a three-floor condominium and several small cottages to its original site. Generations of area teenagers got their first jobs serving food in the retirement center’s oceanfront dining room. Over the past half century, more than 1,000 people have lived there.

In March 2003, after three years of planning, all but White Sands’ original U-shaped building and the addition built in 1961 to house its health center and assisted living was razed, and a 30-foot hole was excavated. Construction began on what would grow into 45 new fully independent apartments and two floors of underground parking.

Wendy Sturrock Matalon, executive director of White Sands, said the new East Campus is a huge step toward completing the retirement center’s build-out. “We still have the assisted-living building to complete,” she pointed out. “Hopefully, it will be done the first part of next year. Then we’ll be completely done.”

The assisted-living building will have 35 apartments, 10 devoted to a dementia program, rounding out the expansion.

Sturrock Matalon said the new East Campus serves a number of functions. “It gives us a better economy of scale,” she said. “It gives us a state-of-the-art dementia unit and a fitness center that we don’t have currently.”

Completion of the East Campus also greatly bolsters parking for residents and staff alike. “It will get our residents and staff off the street - literally,” Sturrock Matalon said. “We now have 254 parking spaces when we only had about 105 before. Now we’ll have parking for everyone.”

The 40 new residents in White Sands’ East Campus live in apartments ranging in size from 1,088 square feet to 1,620 square feet. Apartments are all built around a central courtyard in the same Spanish Colonial style as the original oceanside structure.

A unique brass and iron three-tiered water fountain sits on the corner of Pearl Street and Olivetas Avenue: a gift from an anonymous donor to the neighborhood.

White Sands’ new campus drew rave reviews from both new and longtime residents.

“This is beyond my wildest dreams -I think you have all been here waiting for me to arrive.” - Gladys, new resident.

“This is heaven on earth. I don’t have to cook; I’m taken care of with love; the skilled nursing floor is not to be avoided.” -Elizabeth, new resident.

“What an opportunity for new friendships. We’ll have an expanded art studio; new, larger gym with a full-time personal trainer; a therapy pool; a community room; and I’m grateful for the covered parking with lots of spaces for visitors.” -Marian, long-time resident.

Mike Townsend, vice president of marketing for SCPH, pointed out all of the conglomerate’s 25 facilities serve their greater communities by collectively providing more than 1,300 jobs, more than 150 alone at White Sands.

There are now 180 residents in White Sands’ independent living apartments, including 40 couples and an equal proportion of single men and single women.

Integrating a new group of residents into an existing one that has lived together for many years has been a major transition. Dining room personnel see to it that newcomers sit together with old-timers. No one sits alone unless they prefer it. Orientation sessions are held with small groups to allow time for questions.

Everyone is making an effort to help the new residents feel that they are a part of the White Sands family.

White Sands is a diverse community. The youngest resident came at 59, the oldest at 98. There are three centenarians. The median age is 76. Fifty percent of new residents come from La Jolla.

Residents also have a diverse array of interests. There are tennis and golf players and bicyclists. One resident owns his own plane. Some still work full-time. More than 60 percent of White Sands’ population has advanced academic degrees.

White Sands is located at 7450 Olivetas Ave.