Best Repositioning of 2021: $80M Project Transforms Former UCLA Dorm into Luxury Watermark Community – Senior Housing News

By: Jennifer Lagemann

Formerly a UCLA dormitory at the corner of Tiverton and Weyburn Avenues in West Los Angeles, a 14-story tower has been transformed into senior living community The Watermark at Westwood Village.

The repositioning of this building paid homage to the structure’s mid-century modern aesthetic while updating the structure to support the wellness-focused operational approach of Watermark’s high-end Elan Collection of properties. Overall, Tucson-based Watermark Retirement Communities operates more than 60 communities in 21 states. 

The residents of Watermark communities are considered members that belong to something greater — a community for the “next generation of seniors, with a focus on hospitality and choice,” Watermark Chief Investment Officer Bryan Schachter told Senior Housing News.

Today, Watermark at Westwood Village spans 189,000 square feet, including 94 independent living units, 76 assisted living units, and 18 memory care units. The community boasts expansive amenities including the Indulge salon and spa, a virtual reality lounge, and healing garden for memory care. The community also includes four separate dining venues. And the construction team adhered to “planet-friendly” principles while creating a building that has ample indoor-outdoor spaces and plentiful natural light.

In an added bonus, the repositioning has enabled some people to have a homecoming of sorts, as Watermark Chairman David Freshwater noted that several of the residents of Westwood Village lived in the building when it was a UCLA dorm.

The efforts at repositioning this building were so successful, The Watermark at Westwood Village took top honors in the “Renovation/Repositioning” category of the 2021 Senior Housing News Architecture and Design Awards.

The concept

In addition to its enviable location just one block from the UCLA campus and in close proximity to the retail, dining and entertainment hub of Westwood Village, the building presented a unique opportunity to transform a gem of mid-century architecture.

“The genesis of this project was an opportunity to make a meaningful renovation, to start fresh with a building that could not be duplicated: 14 stories in a height-restricted zone. If this building didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be usable at this location, so this was a once-in-a-generation type of opportunity to retrofit and upgrade a building with access to everything that UCLA and Westwood have to offer,” Schachter told SHN.

For this ambitious project, Watermark worked with Kayne Anderson Real Estate. The Los Angeles-based investment firm also partnered with Watermark on another high-profile repositioning on the opposite coast, in Brooklyn Heights.

The building facade took its cues from a modular frame and infill concept characteristic of mid-century architecture.

“The design leaves existing structural columns and beams but replaces all the stucco walls and strip windows on the exterior with high efficiency window wall units and more durable, higher performing plaster walls,” Daun St. Amand, lead architect from CallisonRTKL, wrote in the project’s awards submission. “The modular floor-to-ceiling window panels open views and provide ample natural light, both of which are crucial in the healing environment.”

Indeed, “connection to the exterior” was a guiding principle of the design concept, St. Amand told SHN.

The community features expansive windows, glass walls and chandelier ceilings. The landscape elements include a courtyard, memory care garden and pet lawn.

Such design elements support Watermark’s focus on wellness; the company has long been dedicated to wellness concepts and is innovating on how to elevate wellness further within senior living communities. This endeavor includes partnerships with various organizations and institutions; for instance, the UCLA Longevity Center provides residents with memory-building activities through Westwood Village’s integrative wellness program.

As part of their renovation plan, CallisonRTKL sought to maintain the building’s beauty while making it safe, comfortable, and habitable for today’s seniors. A quarter of the total funding was spent on ADA upgrades, window replacements, and electrical and plumbing updates.

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The construction

The Covid-19 pandemic created a series of difficulties for the planning and building of this community. This three-year project’s success can be attributed to a synergistic relationship between CallisonRTKL and Bernards Builders.

Architects didn’t have access to as-built drawings of the building’s foundation. Callison’s team had to go in somewhat blind as they prepared to break ground. Then, the pandemic imposed limits that restricted the number of staff members that could be on-site.

The former dorm was pared down to the bones to pave the way for new—up to code—internal plumbing, mechanical and ventilation systems. Rather than a centralized duct, fresh air is drawn from outside to ventilate each apartment.

Such a comprehensive re-configuration of the building was not easy, but reusing an existing concrete structure while installing a more efficient building envelope reduced the environmental impact that went into creating a senior living community at this site.

The Watermark at Westwood Village left a lasting impression on SHN Awards judge Cynthia Shonaiya, principal from Hord Coplan Macht. She praised the “great amenities for the residents, a solid sustainable profile, as well as an intentional intergenerational location.”

Each community in Watermark’s Elan collection is carefully located in creative, innovative places. The Watermark at Westwood Village is special in that “it is emblematic and represents the best of its location,” Brian Watson, a representative of Watermark Retirement Communities, told SHN.  

The completion

Members of the community have praised its design and location, which has made it easy for families to walk around the community to farmers’ markets, Geffen Playhouse and the UCLA campus.

Furthermore, the community is one of the first in the Watermark portfolio to implement a structure in which members have a set amount of money to spend each month on dining or various amenities and services, Freshwater said.

The system prioritizes resident choice — instead of forcing them into a meal plan that might not be a good lifestyle fit, members are encouraged to spend their money wherever they choose. They can opt for wellness programming, enjoy themselves at the bar, or treat themselves to a day at the salon.

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    Before (courtesy Watermark Retirement Communities)
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    After (courtesy Watermark Retirement Communities)
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    Before (courtesy Watermark Retirement Communities)
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    After (courtesy Watermark Retirement Communities)
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    Before (courtesy Watermark Retirement Communities)
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    After (courtesy Watermark Retirement Communities)

One member of Westwood, according to Freshwater, meets with her daughter at the community for lunch and then they get their nails done at the spa.

But while choice is a guiding principle, support is also available for people living at Westwood.

Watermark refers to their caregivers as nayas: a Sanskrit word that means guide. Nayas are truly dedicated to making sure that their members receive top of the line care, Schachter said — and while Westwood is a new community, he noted that nearly one-third of all Watermark’s frontline workers have been with the company for more than 10 years.

So, with the help of nayas, members are guided through their journey each day at The Watermark at Westwood Village, with the goal being to maximize their experience in this breathtaking new community.