By Nina Huang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Aegis Living founder and CEO Dwayne Clark continues to make an impact in the senior living business — this time for the Asian community.
The idea of having a Chinese-themed facility came to Clark about 16 years ago after the first Chinese Aegis community was built in Fremont, Calif. The team had done extensive research on potential locations and the Seattle area has long been a magnet for Asians, said Meng Lo, Aegis Gardens’ general manager.
With hotel experience under his belt, Lo was brought on nearly two years ago to help run the new Aegis Gardens facility in Newcastle.
Former Washington state governor and United States ambassador to China, Gary Locke was present at the groundbreaking on July 30, 2015.
Aegis Gardens cost over $50 million and was built on 7.5 acres of land. The building itself occupies just 2.5 acres and is licensed to house up to 140 residents. Lo mentioned that they wanted the rest of the five acres of land to remain as wetlands.
As the first Aegis facility converted from a regular assisted living community into an Aegis Chinese community, Aegis Gardens holds some unique characteristics.
Aegis Gardens has a multicultural center attached to the main building, as well as a banquet room and a bilingual preschool that will be managed by the Chinese Information Services Center. The banquet room has already been used by other groups in the community, such as the Chamber of Commerce, the City of Newcastle, and the YMCA.
“We open it up to everybody and we want them to be there. This is one of the directions that we want to take — we’re not just an assisted living facility, we are a community for the community,” Lo said.
Lo said that construction took longer than originally planned because after the plot of land was purchased, the team discovered a creek that ran through the middle of the property.
Coincidentally enough, the name of that creek was China Creek. In the 1800s, Chinese immigrants came to the United States to build railroads from the East Coast to the West Coast. Upon completion of the railroads, some of these migrants became coal miners. One of the mines where they worked was in Newcastle.
On Sept. 11, 1885, there was a racial riot at the mines at Coal Creek, where the Chinese miners lived. As a result, they resettled at a small stream flowing west of Lake Boren. They rebuilt their huts and it became a small Chinese village. Ultimately, this area became known as China Creek, Lo said.
In order to continue with construction, Aegis Living worked with the City of Newcastle and Army Corps of Engineers to redirect the creek around the perimeter of the property, which delayed the timeline.
Nevertheless, the building was constructed and decorating the facility was a lengthy process. Clark wanted the building to reflect Chinese culture. Clark and the chief designer, Cynthia Mennella, visited Shanghai several times and eventually shipped over seven containers of furniture. This process of acquiring decor was tedious because everything had to be stored in a warehouse until they were ready to be shipped to Newcastle.
Also, they were particular about finding art that reflected an authentic Chinese experience. For example, there are several paintings of Chinese opera stars in the facility’s cinema room.
Lo said the facility incorporated many Chinese cultural designs, including the cascading waterfall near the main entrance that includes the five main elements of feng shui: water, fire, wood, earth, and metal.
In fact, the team gathered a group of Chinese seniors and feng shui masters to carefully provide input in designing the building.
In addition, when you walk into the building, you will see 1,000 origami paper cranes, which is another reflection of Asian culture. Lo said that cranes are auspicious in both Chinese and Japanese cultures, as they represent longevity.
And when you walk into the private dining room, there is an old-fashioned Korean chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Clark bought it to represent the Korean heritage.
Recently, Aegis Gardens won the prestigious 2017 Senior Housing News Architecture and Design Award. Ankrom Moisan Architects designed the community to combine both Pacific Northwest craftsmanship and an East Asian aesthetic.
“Even though you see a lot of Chinese things that reflects beauty of Chinese culture, there are also a lot of other things that are Asian in our community,” Lo said.
Another important aspect of Chinese culture is eating and Lo said his favorite aspect of the facility was the food.
“What we did was we designed the kitchen so it could do the kind of meals we wanted to do, that was important. You can’t wing Chinese food, it has to be fresh, authentic and have all the right spices, otherwise it won’t taste the same,” Lo said.
The kitchen has special cooking equipment like steamers and woks that wouldn’t be as commonly found in Western cooking. In addition, they have a barbecue station for roast meats, as well as a noodle and congee bar.
“As we get older, we want to eat the food that we grew up eating. There’s a mix of Shanghainese, Guangdong, and Szechuan dishes. We try not to be too spicy and we have a pretty good mix of chefs on the team,” Lo said.
The grand opening of Aegis Gardens Newcastle will take place on Feb. 10, just in time for Chinese New Year.
Nina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.