Best repositioning of 2021: $80 million project turns former UCLA dorm into luxury watermark community

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 The Watermark senior living community in 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 Elan collection of upscale properties. . Overall, Tucson-based Watermark Retirement Communities operates more than 60 communities in 21 states.

Residents of Watermark communities are seen as members of something bigger — a community for the “next generation of seniors, focused on hospitality and choice,” said Bryan Schachter, chief investment officer of Watermark. , at Senior Housing News.

Today, Watermark in Westwood Village spans 189,000 square feet, including 94 Independent Living Units, 76 Assisted Living Units, and 18 Memory Care Units. The community has extensive amenities, including the Indulge Salon and Spa, a virtual reality salon, and a healing garden for memory care. The community also includes four distinct restaurants. And the construction team adhered to “earth-friendly” principles while creating a building with expansive indoor and outdoor spaces and abundant natural light.

As a bonus, the repositioning allowed some people to have a kind of homecoming, as Watermark President David Freshwater noted that several Westwood Village residents lived in the building when it came to a dorm at UCLA.

Efforts to reposition this building were so successful that The Watermark at Westwood Village won 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 close to the Westwood Village shopping, dining and entertainment hub, the building presented a unique opportunity to transform an architectural gem in the middle of the century.

“The genesis of this project was the opportunity to carry out a renovation that makes sense, to start from scratch with a building that could not be duplicated: 14 floors in a zone with limited height. If this building didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be usable in this location, so this was a unique opportunity to upgrade and modernize a building with access to everything UCLA and Westwood have to offer,” Schachter said. at SHN.

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

The facade of the building is inspired by a modular framework and an infill concept characteristic of mid-century architecture.

“The design leaves the existing structural columns and beams, but replaces all stucco walls and strip windows on the exterior with high-efficiency wall units and more durable and better performing plaster walls,” Daun wrote. St. Amand, Principal Architect of CallisonRTKL, in the project price submission. “The modular floor-to-ceiling window panels open up views and provide abundant natural light, two crucial elements in the healing environment.”

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

The community features large windows, glass walls and chandelier ceilings. Landscaping features include a courtyard, memory care garden and pet lawn.

These design elements support Watermark’s focus on wellness; the company has long been dedicated to wellness concepts and innovating on how to further improve wellness within senior communities. This endeavor includes partnerships with various organizations and institutions; for example, the UCLA Longevity Center offers residents memory-building activities as part of the Westwood Village Integrative Wellness Program.

As part of its renovation plan, CallisonRTKL sought to preserve the building’s beauty while making it safe, comfortable and livable for today’s senior citizens. A quarter of the total funding went to ADA upgrades, window replacements, and electrical and plumbing updates.


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

The architects did not have access to as-built plans for the building’s foundations. Callison’s team must have entered somewhat blind as they prepared to innovate. Then the pandemic imposed limits that restricted the number of staff who could be on site.

The old dorm has been stripped to the bone to make way for new code-compliant internal plumbing, mechanical and ventilation systems. Rather than a centralized duct, fresh air is drawn from outside to ventilate each apartment.

Such a complete reconfiguration of the building was not easy, but reusing an existing concrete structure while installing a more efficient building envelope reduced the environmental impact necessary to create a retirement home on This site.

The watermark in Westwood Village left a lasting impression on SHN Awards judge Cynthia Shonaiya, director of Hord Coplan Macht. She praised the “great resident amenities, a strong sustainable profile, as well as an intentional intergenerational location.”

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


Community members praised its design and location, which made it easy for families to stroll through the community to Farmers’ Markets, Geffen Playhouse, and the UCLA campus.

Additionally, the community is one of the first in Watermark’s portfolio to implement a structure where members have a set amount to spend each month on meals or various amenities and services, Freshwater said.

The system prioritizes resident choice – instead of forcing them into a meal plan that might not suit their lifestyle, members are encouraged to spend their money wherever they please. They can opt for wellness programming, have fun at the bar or treat themselves to a day at the lounge.

A member of Westwood, according to Freshwater, meets his daughter in the community for lunch, then they get their nails done at the spa.

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

The watermark refers to their caregivers as nayas: a Sanskrit word meaning guide. The Nayas are truly committed to ensuring their members receive top-notch care, Schachter said – and although Westwood is a new community, he noted that almost a third of all Watermark frontline workers have worked for the company for more than 10 years. .

So, with the help of nayas, members are guided on their daily journey to The Watermark in Westwood Village, with the goal of maximizing their experience in this breathtaking new community.

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