- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — For most of the past 37 years, the dinner dress code was coats and ties for men, and skirts or dresses for women at the Sequoias, a high-rise retirement community. But the newer, younger residents lobbied successfully for more casual dining.

More than two years later, some of the old-timers are still grumbling.

“There is a definite generation gap between the ones who have lived here 20 years” and more recent arrivals, said 82-year-old Hilde Orloff.

At retirement communities across the country, a rift has opened up between the 90-year-olds and the comparatively spry 70-year-olds, between the generation that came of age during the Depression and the one that reached adulthood amid postwar prosperity.

They are clashing over such things as dress codes, the food, the conversion of tea rooms into coffee bars and higher monthly fees to pay for the weight rooms, roomier quarters and computer-ready apartments demanded by the younger, more active set.

Maria Dwight, a Santa Monica-based consultant who helps plan and market senior-citizen housing, said older residents do not want to pay for perks they won’t use, and they can be resistant to change.

“They don’t see the facilities with fresh eyes,” she said. “So the carpet is a little worn, so what? They are living there. They are comfortable.”

The intergenerational tension is expected to mount as more and more baby boomers enter their golden years, during which they are expected to be healthier and more active than the generation that came before them. By 2030, one in five U.S. residents is expected to be 65 or older.

“This creates a real dilemma for older retirement communities,” Miss Dwight said, “because they tend to have small dwelling units and huge dining rooms that aren’t attractive to younger older people who want weight rooms and casual dining and lap pools and a home office and room for the grandchildren to come visit.”

But even small switches, such as replacing a calisthenics class with pilates, can be disconcerting to the old-timers. At Oakmont Village, a 3,000-home neighborhood in Santa Rosa, Calif., it was the cost of spiffing up the gym that raised people’s blood pressure.

One retirement-home chief executive in New Jersey was forced out after residents rebelled over plans to modernize the place, Miss Dwight said. “They tried telling me that having an indoor lap pool was very hedonistic,” she recalled.

That is the quandary in which Northern California Presbyterian Homes and Services, which owns the Sequoias and six other retirement communities, finds itself. Chief Executive Barbara Hood said upgrading aging facilities is critical to nonprofit organizations like hers as more private developers get into the increasingly lucrative senior-citizen housing market.

The Sequoias, whose 333 residents range in age from 69 to 103, added a buffet and casual-dress seating, though it also kept sit-down table service and the dress-up rule for those who preferred it.

“It’s their home, so of course they are going to be concerned,” Miss Hood said of the grumbling from the older residents. But “we have to make sure we are keeping our commitments to current residents and attracting the next cohort of seniors.”

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