By Greg Hernandez
As a crowd of more than 200 people watched, a crane hoisted the final steel beam high into the air and placed it on the northeast corner of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Anita May Rosenstein Campus on May 24.
It was the key moment in an emotional topping off ceremony, a traditional event held by builders when the last beam is placed atop a structure during its construction.
“It’s such a powerful, moving moment and I’m overwhelmed by it,” Center board member Michael Lombardo said after the beam was put in place. “This is my first experience with a topping off ceremony and it’s incredibly moving. It’s powerful to see and to feel the completion of this dream.”
When it opens in early 2019, the two-acre campus will span more than a city block and be located directly across the street from the Center’s arts, cultural, and educational facility—The Village at Ed Gould Plaza.
It is a first-of-its-kind complex that will offer comprehensive multi-generational services and housing, including 99 units of affordable housing for seniors, 100 beds for homeless youth, and new youth and senior centers. The intergenerational building will also house the Center’s new administrative headquarters, freeing space for its McDonald/Wright Building to become entirely a health and medical center.
“This new Anita May Rosenstein Campus is not only going to be a dynamic and vibrant hub and be iconic for our community around the world, it is going to provide much-needed homes to some of the most vulnerable parts of our community,” Center CEO Lorri L. Jean said at a lunch following the ceremony for construction crews from Swinerton Builders alongside the Center’s Capital Campaign donors.
“This isn’t just some office complex you’re creating,” Jean added. “Instead, you have some very precious lives in your hands. What you are building will become a safe and loving home for hundreds of people who desperately need such homes. Thousands more will visit every day to get services that will make an enormous difference in their lives, enabling them to live up to their full potential.”
The beam was signed by many of the donors who have contributed to the $46 million raised so far for the complex. Among those in attendance was Rosenstein, whose lead gift of $7.2 million from the Anita May Rosenstein Foundation, Wilbur D. May Foundation, and the Anita and Arnold Rosenstein Family Foundation, is the largest gift ever given by a living person to an LGBT organization.
“We would not be here were it not for the donors who have stepped up and helped us turn this dream into a reality,” Jean said. “If we can get $50 million by our grand opening, we will be able to retire the mortgage on this facility and that means every penny that we raise will go directly to the life-saving services that will be provided here.”
The CEO noted that until this project, the Center had never had a living donor make a seven-figure pledge. Now it has more than 14. Among them is David J. Bailey, co-chair of the Center’s Board of Directors and who serves as chair of the capital campaign for the new campus.
“This is amazing,” Bailey said moments after the final beam was bolted in place. “I remember five years ago when we flew to Sacramento and bought this piece of property from the state and how long that took. The fact that we were there then and we are here now putting the final beam in place to what is going to be the largest LGBT center in the world, it leaves me speechless.”
Also feeling emotional was Center board member LuAnn Boylan who said: “I am having a really hard time not just crying constantly.”
For Boylan, also a member of the Capital Campaign steering committee, it’s a monumental step forward for a Center that she has been heavily involved with for decades.
“A gentleman just walked up to me and said, ‘I remember you standing at the podium welcoming us to the Village.’ I was part of that, I’m part of this,” she said, holding back tears. “I’ve been on the board for 23 years. It never ceases to amaze me that we think we can and then we do. This is an amazing organization and I’m proud and honored to have been a part of it for this moment.”
The topping off ceremony is a rare opportunity “when the suits get to honor the boots” said Rodney Freeman of Freeman Group Inc., which is involved in the construction.
“We get to honor these people in the trades that are helping us create this incredible center,” Freeman said as he addressed the crowd. “The ceremonial idea of the topping off is an ancient one. It goes way back to ancient times, but it’s a real, true American tradition.
“There’s a tree that’s on the beam and it’s a symbol of bringing life to our new building, it’s a symbol of appreciation with good luck, future growth and activity.”