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League House gives seniors

Adriana Hixson, 76, used to live in a mansion in Kansas. But when her husband died, she lost everything: the house, the oilfields, the Mercedes, the private airplane.

The Dutch woman learned hard and fast to live without many possessions. Decades later, living in a modest apartment at the League House in La Jolla, she cheerily showed off her morning’s efforts, orange marmalade and valances for the windows.

She said she’s happier without all the things that seemed important when she was younger.

“At my age,” she said, “when you live alone, how much do you need?”

For the last 50 years, the League House, run and supported by the Social Service League of La Jolla, has provided San Diego County seniors with affordable housing. It is one of only three known housing units privately subsidized with no assistance from the government.

“We cater to a group of residents and citizens,” said Hetty de Jong, director of the League House, “that mostly will fall through the cracks, because they are not poverty stricken but they cannot live the way they mostly have lived during their lifetime that they worked.”

The League House, at the corner of Olivetas Avenue and Pearl Street, consists of 53 residential apartments, a lounge, dining room and kitchen encompassing two courtyards. For a studio apartment with a kitchenette and a meal from White Sands every night, residents pay one-third of their monthly income, on a sliding scale. To live at the League House, seniors must earn between $750 and $1,500 a month, which means rent ranges from $250 to $500, plus $15 for utilities.

After turning 65, Connie Thurston couldn’t find a job that would enable her to continue living in the city. The League House provided her with affordable, attractive housing. After living there for 10 years, Thurston said the most attractive thing about League House is the communal living.

“If anything happens to us or if we’re feeling lonely or if we want to play bridge or we want to go to the desert, we have someone to go with,” she said. “Instead of having our old age become a time when we are separated for people and lonely and isolated, it is not happening here. I think it’s a very healthy, mentally healthy, way to live.”

Even though each resident lives in their own space, they dine together every night at 5:30 p.m. The Social Service League hosts holiday parties and sing-alongs. Warwick’s book shop gives lectures on a regular basis for a book club. Residents play cards in the courtyard and have created their own walking club.

Hixson and some other women were planning to start a breakfast club where anyone can bring their own food and eat out on the patio together, enjoying the sunshine, flowers and fountains.

De Jong and League House historian Grace Brophy are adamant that the League House is not an “old people’s home.” Residents must be ambulatory and self-sufficient. Spry, mid-70s women such as Hixson and Thurston reveal age does not seem to restrict activity for many at League House. However, some of the older residents don’t get out as much.

Dawn Sharrow has called the League House home for 19 years. She enjoys the book club and library at the League House, but mostly keeps to herself. Her watercolors hang in the lounge, but now the effort to set up painting materials takes too much energy.

Approaching her 90s but still able to meet the health requirements, she hopes she can live out the rest of her life here.

“That’s what I’m here for,” she said, “so I can die a happy ending.”

The Social Service League grew out of the Social Service Committee of St. James By-the-Sea Episcopal Church, which was founded in 1927. Their mission was to teach young women a sense of community responsibility.

A group home to help the elderly with the financial strains of living on a fixed income was the brainchild of Lucia Hopkins, the first vice president of the Social Service Committee of St. James By-the-Sea and later a co-vice president of the Social Service League of La Jolla from 1947 to 1953.

The League House has been the Social Service League’s primary mission ever since.

The property was purchased in 1949 for $16,500 with fund-raising money. The first phase of the League House, designed in an L-shape, included 16 apartments, a manager’s office, lounge, kitchen and dining room and was completed in May 1955.

Phase two, completed in 1961, added 12 apartments and an elevator enclosing what is now a courtyard. The Darlington property and Mediterranean-style home next door were purchased in 1968. The 25 feet immediately adjoining the property was used for phase three, a three-storied, 24-unit addition and the spacious Anna Roon Lounge.

Funding for the League House comes from endowments and trusts. In addition, the Darlington House provides ongoing support through proceeds earned from renting out the historical home for special events.

The Social Service League now boasts more than 200 members. League women add to the congenial atmosphere at the League House. De Jong waves hello to everyone and greets them by name.

To honor the contribution League House has made to the community, San Diego Mayor Dick Murphy has declared May 15 as League House Day. On May 15, the Social Service League of La Jolla will host an anniversary party to celebrate the League House’s 50 years of operation.

Call (858) 454-5266.