Openhouse opens new community space

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday December 22, 2021
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Openhouse Executive Director Kathleen Sullivan, Ph.D., stands in front of a mural by David Faulk that is a tribute to long-term HIV and AIDS survivors. Photo: Christopher Robledo
Openhouse Executive Director Kathleen Sullivan, Ph.D., stands in front of a mural by David Faulk that is a tribute to long-term HIV and AIDS survivors. Photo: Christopher Robledo

After a yearslong delay in opening the doors to its new community center, San Francisco's LGBTQ senior services provider Openhouse is settling into the 7,000 square foot space. It includes a library with reading lounge, rooms for art programs and yoga classes, and additional office space for staff.

It is to be named after a recently deceased gay couple who left a sizeable donation to the nonprofit. Their names are not being disclosed publicly as of yet, as Openhouse is planning a dedication ceremony as soon as February to reveal the new name for the center.

"They left a significant amount to Openhouse," Kathleen Sullivan, Ph.D., the agency's executive director, recently told the Bay Area Reporter.

Currently known as the Openhouse Community Center at 75 Laguna, it is also home to the Openhouse + On Lok Community Day Services. The nation's first community-based adult day program co-designed for and with the LGBTQ+ community, it is currently operating three days a week and expects to have enrolled 25 participants by year's end. (See related story.)

In design since 2018, the program had been expected to launch in 2019 when the new community center was to have opened. But as the B.A.R. previously reported, construction issues pushed back that timeline and then the COVID-19 pandemic further delayed the two agencies being able to utilize the space for public programming.

Openhouse provided sneak peeks of the new building to tours of limited size in September, and its program with On Lok launched September 28. Also opening this fall was Savvy Green Cleaners in the 2,500 square foot corner ground floor retail space of the building at 55 Laguna Street.

It was to have relocated from its longtime storefront at 1890 Market Street in March 2020 just as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. Owner Hisun Kang divided the retail space into two, with the one on the corner with Hermann Street set to be a coin-operated laundry that will soon open.

When it does, it will mean Openhouse's entire campus on Laguna Street is being fully utilized for the first time since the first residential units opened at 55 Laguna in late 2016 in a former academic building that was renovated. The rest of the building's ground floor spaces, with an address of 65 Laguna, house Openhouse's Bob Ross LGBT Senior Center, named after the B.A.R.'s founding publisher.

As for the new two-story community center, its staircase features a mural by artist David Faulk, a gay, HIV-positive man selected for the commission. The "living tribute" to long-term HIV and AIDS survivors was funded primarily by a capital grant of $250,000 from Gilead Sciences Inc.

Called "The Scenic Route," the artwork is a largely comedic take on the different journeys people living with HIV or AIDS, depicted as cartoon animals, have taken. Living walls planted with various plant species surround it.

It is the focal point for a light-filled atrium as a wall of windows behind the staircase lets natural sunlight to filter into the community center. A doorway at the top of the stairs leads into the outdoor courtyard that connects the two buildings of LGBTQ-affirming affordable senior housing that Openhouse built in partnership with Mercy Housing, a developer of affordable housing throughout California.

"It's a welcoming space full of light. It is just really beautiful," said Donna Personna, a transgender woman who lives in one of the senior apartments in the building at 95 Laguna that is connected to the community center.

Other spaces

The upper entrance to the staircase can be closed off to the public when the day program with On Lok is taking place. It utilizes the main room on the second floor that can be divided into smaller classrooms or resource rooms when needed.

The space is named The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Activity Center, as the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, one of the largest private charitable foundations in the United States, has been a major donor to Openhouse for years. In 2018, the foundation awarded the nonprofit a capital grant for $1 million, leading to the room being named after the Jewish philanthropists.

"Harry and Jeannette Weinberg cared deeply about older adults, and particularly those who are low-income and most vulnerable. They set the original vision, which has made the foundation one of the largest funders in the field of aging and older adult services in the United States," stated Aaron Merki, the foundation's chief program officer. "Support for organizations like Openhouse, which meet the needs of an aging and at-risk population of LGBT older adults and ensures that they are able to live with maximum independence and quality of life, fits squarely within the mission of the foundation and its founders."

Other spaces in the community center have also been christened for supporters of the nonprofit. The Sarah Baron Library is named after the mother of a major donor who gave the nonprofit $130,000 about two decades ago, while the Dr. Karyn Skultety Balcony sits outside of the activity center. It has been nicknamed the Bowtie Balcony due to the agency's former executive director having a penchant for sporting the neckwear.

Nearby the community center's ground floor lobby area — the Dale S. Bentley Welcome Center — is the Oryx Partners Art Studio, the Zepf-Payton Staff Room, and the John Paul De Cecco Lifelong Learning Center. The learning center, named after the late gay human sexuality scholar, is a classroom-like space that can also be used for exercise classes, movie showings, and other programs, such as Openhouse's Halloween party this year.

The learning center utilizes Owl virtual meeting technology so program attendance can be hybrid, with some participants being in-person and others logging on from home. The space also has special floor material that is easier on people's knees when doing yoga or meditation in the room.

"Some people are not able to be vaccinated because of medical reasons so this way they are still able to take part in our programs," said Sullivan.

By the check-in desk, where everyone must get their temperature taken due to the ongoing pandemic, is a touch-activated video screen that has various photos and videos about Openhouse as well as a short compilation about the life of the agency's founders Marcy Adelman, Ph.D., and her late spouse, Jeanette Gurevitch. A painting of the couple hangs to the left of the entranceway into the community center.

"It's astounding. Jeanette and Marcy had this vision on creating housing for LGBT seniors. Out of their vision that has been dramatically expanded," Tim Wolfred, 76, a gay man who is a donor to and program participant of Openhouse, told the B.A.R. while touring the new facility earlier this fall. "This building is a visible manifestation of their work. It is very well done ... It is a display of how much support they have gotten from various aspects of the community."

The entire community center space is open to the public Sundays and Mondays when the day program with On Lok is not operating. The rest of the week the public has access to the main-level areas for various daytime programs.

To learn more about the community engagement programs Openhouse offers, click here.

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