SUNSET STORY

The Graying of America

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Sunset Hall

A non-profit organization near downtown Los Angeles, Sunset Hall was first established as a retirement home for religious liberals in 1923, by the Women's Alliance of the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles. At the time, the Los Angeles Unitarians were fairly affluent, and their liberal leanings stemmed from their religious beliefs. Many were active in political movements for women’s suffrage and birth control. The idea for a progressive retirement home stemmed from a lack of social support networks for the elderly—no Social Security existed at the time—coupled with the growing population of Southern California and the needs of some members’ friends, who were aging and lacking a support network.

A metal sign reading “Welcome to Sunset Hall” and pointing to the “office” stands next to a hand printed sign reading “Keep Hope Alive.”

Camera angle from the second floor looking down on a group of Sunset Hall residents, some in wheelchairs, as they sit in a circle in the facilityıs courtyard.

It took 11 years for the Women’s Alliance to raise enough funds to build Sunset Hall, and it was not until 1934 that the actual building was opened. Then located in Pasadena, Sunset Hall had full residency and a waiting list before it even opened. Four years later, a second home was built across the street. Sunset Hall’s current location in the mid-Wilshire neighborhood of Los Angeles opened in 1965.

For decades, Sunset Hall was fully occupied, but by the 1980s, residency was dwindling: membership in the Unitarian Church was lessening, and more senior citizens were also choosing to remain in their private homes. In 1989, the Sunset Hall board of directors voted to sell the building and close the Hall itself. But residents and supporters fought—and succeeded—in keeping it alive.

Today, Sunset Hall is an independent, secular institution which houses about 35 residents: men and women who were active in the political, social and cultural movements of their times; former teachers, writers, machinists, shipyard workers and healthcare professionals. With activities such as “free thinkers” meetings and community gardening and a belief that “active connection with the world keeps minds and spirits vigorous,” Sunset Hall continues to provide senior social progressives with a supportive community, no matter what their age or physical condition.

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