Corporate is Coming..Corporate is Coming

In April, 2019, the residents of Hawthorne Terrace were informed the building had been sold to a property management company based in Chicago. The current building manager who’d been here a long time was being transferred to other properties still owned by the landlord. Chaos ensued.

As I look back, I get it that the new owner wanted a fresh start. The long-time manager had been running the place as a senior living facility for the last six years even though it was now an apartment complex. Perhaps corporate didn’t want to deal with her resistance.

And with that, a whole new vocabulary entered our world. It had to do with corporate, this faceless, mysterious entity that controls all from afar. I’ll have to check with corporate. I’m not sure what corporate will say about that. Instead of a solution in minutes, it now takes days. And sometimes, no answer.

My first problem occurred when I sent my rent check to the old landlord a week before the announcement of a change in ownership. So, I had to deal with not one, but two corporates. Corporate One wanted their rent money and said they’d need to charge me late fees if they didn’t get it soon. I called Corporate Two and sure enough they had the money and said they’d take care of it. When and how it got solved, I have no idea. But it did.

A new building manager came on board amidst this chaos. I liked her. She was a young and energetic woman. On her first day, the maintenance man declared he hated her. I asked how he could do that without giving her a chance. Perhaps it was her funky clothes, spike heels and extra-long eyelashes. Or how each of her thirteen wigs made her look different each day.

She held a resident meeting, attended by a core of about twenty senior residents. Only 40% of the residents were seniors; the rest were students and young families.  She stressed that she wanted to keep things the way they were. She planned to continue and expand the long-established activities.

She also hoped people would stop yelling at her. She was working really hard. And this we knew since she was in the office days, nights and weekends. When a resident asked if what she was planning was in agreement with corporate, she said no. She then restated her goal of satisfying the senior residents.

I immediately thought her days were numbered with that attitude. Then I heard her boss from corporate had been standing outside in the hallway listening throughout the meeting. Sure enough, three days later she was gone. Chaos elevated.

A resident decided she was a perfect fit to be the next building manager and intended to apply.  She worked hard to convince the bosses that she could do the job. Or some part of the job. She had money problems and this was her solution.

What she did was take it upon herself to clean public areas of the building. She threw away food and drink in the kitchen that belonged to a resident. She moved decorative brick from the entrance area to the garden at the back of the building.

In another of her self-appointed chores, she searched for a card table missing from the closet near the dining room; she got in a yelling, name-calling, finger-pointing altercation with another resident who felt they were being accused of stealing the card table. You know how the biggest part of communication is the body language. Her’s is a bit aggressive so I can see how this misunderstanding could happen.

She’s doing all these things without the knowledge or approval of corporate. She says she’s trying to make an impression on them that she can handle the job. I watch with interest and just stay out of the way. By the way, a new manager has been hired.

I joked with my sit-in-the-library-wait-for-the -mail group that we should do a pool to see which services will end first. Just trying to inject some humor. It could be the bus that takes residents to local grocery stores and out to restaurants. The number going on these trips has dwindled.

Or the in-house grocery store. Or the free coffee in the computer room. Weekly Mass that has an attendance of less than twenty. The in-house beauty salon has already gone from two days to one day each week.

Just as I said that, we got a letter informing us the emergency buzzers in all apartments will be taken out next month. That wasn’t my pick but also no surprise.  What to do, some worry. I guess we have to call 911 ourselves. We are all reminded that If things change too much, everyone has the option of moving.

Change brings out the best and worst in people. I feel very bad for the resident who is so desperate to feel useful and earn some money. Even more so, I feel bad for all the other residents who are having difficulty adjusting. But adjust we must. None of this is a shock. And it’s only the beginning.

 

 

 

 

Getting to Know You

Hurray for a GPS. It helped me find my way in this complicated new town. After a week of unpacking and settling in I was ready to make sense of everything. Each day I went exploring, deciding where I wanted to go, putting in the address and following the directions. That’s how I found shops, coffee places, the library, grocery stores, banks and pharmacies. Everything I needed. So close.

Next, I wanted to get to know everything about this lovely building. From talking to people who’ve been here a long time and from the internet I learned that this building that was once a school has an interesting history.

Hawthorne Junior High School was built in 1931 (so says the cornerstone) and serviced seventh and eighth grade students until 1969 or so. Hawthorne and other junior high schools were becoming overcrowded so the city decided to build a second high school and a middle school. Once students enrolled in the new schools, Hawthorne closed.

It sat empty until 1987 when it was purchased by Reilly Joseph who owned and managed several senior living facilities. They reconfigured the building to hold 40 apartments with 23 different floor plans. A few years later, the owners decided to expand.

The school’s indoor swimming pool west of the building (the only public swimming pool in Wauwatosa) was demolished and replaced by a new addition that added apartments and an underground parking garage. The building now has one hundred apartments and twenty -seven different floor plans. The architect of the expansion project, Jack Shepherd, lived in the apartment next to mine.

In summer 2013, due to the many vacancies, the owners decided the building needed to become an inter-generational apartment building. This was about the time I moved in. Here’s where it gets interesting and where the residents of the building become part of the story.

The woman who was the building manager had been working there a long time. I heard many stories of how wonderful this place had been in its heyday. The dinners and cocktail hours were a great memory. The manger’s husband, a retired restaurant and bar owner, did the cooking. Yikes! The health department would have lots to say about that.

I’d met some residents who had never lived anywhere else but in their home, while married and raising children and then in this place mostly as widows. I met two who had been life-long friends since grade school. Another resident discovered a new man who’d moved in had been the best man in her wedding some fifty years ago.  It was a small world.

The building manager and her husband had for many years lived in the building. They thought of the residents as family and accommodated them in this way. So, any change would have been hard for them. For me, a newcomer, I thought it was nice that now families and children were being welcomed in.

Others thought it was terrible. The first year, we had four medical students move in. To me, they were the perfect neighbors. They were never around and when they were, they were studying. Management changed the long unused craft room to a study room to accommodate them.

This caused quite a fury and residents voiced concern that more drastic changes were coming. One resident feared this meant she could no longer walk the hallways as part of her exercise regime. So, she’s worried a medical student will assault her!  I also heard rumors that some residents had been unkind toward them. Hmm. I wonder if that has to do with the fact they were mostly Middle Eastern.

At first, I felt out of my element since I don’t’ have much in common with most who live here. When they hear of my divorced, childless by choice and non-religious attitude, there is stone cold silence. That’s okay because I’ve got plenty of friends who live nearby. In fact, I’ve reconnected with all the friends I’d left behind when I moved up north.

For me, I love this place. It has a quiet almost small-town feel with everything so close. I have the privacy I want but if I’m lonely I just walk down the hall to the library or the lobby. There’s always someone to chat with. I love sitting in my window to watch the soccer games in the park across the street.  I do a lot of reading while sitting on the patio. This has quickly become my home.

 

Turning For Home

Summer 2013. I’d come to town to search for my next home. A google search done while still living in Eagle River had helped me compile a list of eight promising possibilities. I was staying for three days at my friend Betty’s place in Waukesha while I conducted my search.

I headed out the first day for a 9:00 appointment to see the first on my list. Getting off the freeway, I made my way to Hawthorne Terrace on Portland Avenue in Wauwatosa.  I could see the flag on my GPS so knew I was close. Turning onto Portland Avenue, I found a lovely residential street with a grade school on the corner.

As I rounded that last curve, I was taken by the many trees all swaying in the summer breeze. An unexpected Northwoods canopy.  Hard to believe this was an urban area. I crossed Honey Creek Parkway and on the right was a city or county park. It was clear there would be no new construction going on in this fully developed neighborhood. That was a plus.

The building, formerly a school, was almost regal with its big windows and high tower. I drove around to the parking lot in back, parked and looked around. Everything was well-kept and neat. Flowers in pots and landscaping done to a T. I fell in love before I’d even stepped inside.

The building manager showed me around. A beautiful lobby, complete with fireplace. Meeting and dining rooms, a store, library, exercise room and hair salon.  But what most impressed me was that there were people everywhere. That squelched my fear that apartment living would be insolating.

The manager further explained that the property had recently been re-designated inter-generational. Due to the large number of vacancies, the owners had asked the city to change their license to an apartment building instead of a fifty-five plus facility.  I liked that. As a result, the building now had four medical students from the medical school that was about eight blocks away. She further explained the activities in the building such as a book group and bingo.

We finished the tour, I updated the GPS and soon arrived at the next place. It was also nice but I began to pick apart the small things. Too much traffic. So quiet. I was captivated by that first place.

From there, I went back to Betty’s house and excitedly told her I needed her to see what I’d found. The manager gave us another tour and Betty asked a few questions I’d overlooked in my excitement. We left with a next day appointment to see an apartment that would be available in a few months. Next day, I signed a lease and got an October move in date.

That seemed so easy. Too easy. Then doubts set in. I worried that I might have been too hasty. Perhaps I should have at least looked at the others. Canceling those other six appointments had felt right at the time but what if I’m making a mistake.

Next day, I drove back to Eagle River and had this great feeling as I drove through town to my apartment. It was a sense of relief. It was settled. I no longer belonged here, maybe never did. I made a list of what I had to do and a timeline with the end being the day I would move.

And that happened in October. After the moving van, loaded up in one hour, left my driveway, I locked up and for the last time drove through Eagle River with the same exhilaration. Good bye to the old and in with the new. Next day, the moving van arrived and the one-hour unloading began. I felt at home right away.

But there will be adjustments. Community living presents unique situations and issues. I’m looking forward to new lessons and a rehash of old ones.

 

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