A not so retiring community

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With its 150th anniversary approaching, James Lenox House keeps senior residents busy


  • A rendering of the James Lenox House on East 73rd Street following planned renovations. Courtesy James Lenox House

Luis Maza has been a resident of James Lenox House, a retirement community on the Upper East Side, for nine years. The place hasn’t slowed him down, though. On the contrary: the 78-year-old cooks and cleans, goes shopping and takes walks, and even worked at New York Presbyterian Hospital up until last year.

“This is the most amazing part of my life,” he said. “My third youth. The other tenants here really keep me going.”

James Lenox House has stood on 73rd Street for 150 years, but it wasn’t always a home for older adults. It was founded in 1866 by Mary Lenox Sheafe as a home for Civil War widows. In the 1970s it was rebuilt and the mission changed to what it is now — affordable independent living for older men and women.

“It’s like a village,” said Maza. “It’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic — we have LGBT residents. There are so many exciting things here.”

The current 107 tenants rent either a studio apartment for $1100 a month or a one bedroom for $1300 a month. Actually getting one of the 99 apartments isn’t easy. According to executive director Joseph Girven, the waiting list is at least five years long right now.

“It’s the best building in the city for older adults,” said Girven. “They can enjoy getting old here.”

The house provides a variety of supportive services such as exercise classes, concerts, parties, and even beauty parlor services. There’s also an affiliate organization, Carnegie East House, which provides a higher level of care than is provided at James Lenox.

“We have some residents who need hospice service,” said Girven.

With the 150th anniversary celebration approaching, Girven said they are thinking about what the future of the house looks like. There’s a possibility of adding another building as well as getting involved with advocacy in the city.

“One hundred fifty years is a good time to think back and look forward,” he said. “There’s a great need right now for affordable housing for seniors.”

The front of the building has been undergoing construction since September to create a community patio garden space. It’s expected to be completed by November 30th.

“It better be done by then,” joked Girven. “That’s the day of the [anniversary] party.”

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