ALTAR Buddha thinks about nothing at a small altar in Friendship Hall at Enso Village, the senior living community in North Village. (Photo by Christian Kallen)

North Healdsburg is not a city, not a place on the map, not even a “census-designated community,” at least not yet. It’s a bit of a misnomer, too, since the developers are calling the area North Village, to include a senior living community, a 108-unit bungalow-style hotel with a Charlie Palmer restaurant and rooftop bar to be called Appellations, as well as 53 affordable residential units and 12,000 square feet of retail/commercial businesses.

In many ways, though, the cornerstone is Enso Village, the first component of North Village to near completion. Its main building is at 1801 Boxheart Drive, though a number of other buildings surround a central courtyard where a “zendo” meditation room and rock garden are located.

Among the first new residents of Enso Village was Susan O’Connell. She’s a smiling, attractive woman of 77, with a small, friendly dog named Lady Bailey. O’Connell has some difficulty with her gait, but is as alert as the sunshine. She moved into Enso Village on the first day it accepted residents, on Nov. 20, 2023.

O’Connell may not be the typical Enso inhabitant, but she is a significant one. A former actress (The Ballad of Cable Hogue, 1970) and film producer (Tell Me a Riddle, 1980), she started meditation in 1986 and moved into the San Francisco Zen Center in 1995.

The San Francisco Zen Center was established in 1962 as a residence retreat in the city. It developed from the post-War infatuation with Zen that particularly influenced the Beats and the “counterculture” of the era.

O’Connell said the idea of a living facility that could provide senior care for the teachers of the Zen Center came to her in 2006, and during the next decade she refined the plan and found a partner in the Kendal Corporation, which develops senior living communities nationally, that could bring the idea into reality.

“I had an idea of how to handle our senior teachers, putting them inside a larger community that would be Zen inspired,” said O’Connell, as we spoke in her new, small ground-level apartment in Building B. “And over time, the world seemed to think that it was a good idea.”

Closing the Circle

ADDRESS The Enso Village lobby at 1801 Boxheart Drive, in the North Village development in Healdsburg, still under construction.

“Enso” is the Japanese word for circle, specifically the so-called “Zen circle of enlightenment,” as hand-drawn by brush.

Enso Village is a California licensed senior living community, approved by the Planning Commission in 2020 to provide 221 independent living units (30 of them at affordable rates) with 24 memory care units and 30 assisted living beds.

Applicants choose an apartment size, from small one-bedroom to more spacious two-plus units, and pay a 10% deposit as an entrance fee—which varies depending on the size of the preferred residence—and, if accepted, a monthly fee for services. The fee is partially refundable to the resident or their estate upon death or relocation, a standard practice in senior housing.

Twenty of the affordable units are designed for occupancy by Zen teachers, who do not pay an entrance fee, and are allocated by the San Francisco Zen Center; the other 10 are allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis from a list currently being developed.

On-site services include primary care, home health, hospice, caregivers, companions, medication delivery and physical/occupational therapy. Additional holistic approaches to health and wellness will also be available.

Enso Village is a cooperative venture between Kendal and the San Francisco Zen Center, part of a trend in senior living called “intentional communities” that promote independent living, resident empowerment, inclusivity and sustainability.

CEO Rosemary Jordan, of Kendal Housing, is the on-site executive director at Enso Village in Healdsburg. (Photo by Christian Kallen)

Enso’s CEO is Rosemary Jordan, whose career has been in health, wellbeing and more recently, senior living. “My training is in public health and public policy,” Jordan said. “I’m one of these people who sort of believes that we can do better, create a better way for people to age.”

As well as facilities, marketing and sales officers and the like, Enso also has a so-called Head of Inspirement (Erin Partridge), a Head of Spiritual Life (Malika Bouhdili), at least one Creative Arts Therapist (Andra Duncan) and other atypical positions.

The Enso complex also includes a café and dining room inspired by the Fort Mason vegetarian restaurant Greens, which itself was a project of the San Francisco Zen Center founded in 1979. Greens was one of the first restaurants to focus on fresh, organic produce, supplied by the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in Muir Beach (another Zen Center residence retreat).

Baked In

Executive Chef Kyle Evans manages the nourishment and culinary program at Enso Village, which includes two dining options. The current dining option available for residents is Sky Hall—a restaurant-style dining experience with a carefully crafted, locally sourced à la carte menu.

The other dining entity currently in development is Tierra Cocina, a café-style option that will offer a plant-forward vegetarian approach with pizzas, salads and sandwiches. After a break-in period, Tierra Cocina is set to open this summer, first to residents and their guests, and then to the public.

Evans has a background that includes a stint at the third spoke of the Zen Center wheel, Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. Tassajara was founded in 1967 as a Buddhist Sōtō Zen monastery in the mountains above Carmel Valley. It became widely known in part because of the Tassajara Bread Book, an essential resource in every hippie’s kitchen. Evans confided he had some Tassajara sourdough starter he was planning to use in developing the Tierra Cocina bakery.

All three—Green Gulch Farm, Tassajara and the Zen Center—are residential communities. At the San Francisco Zen Center, about 60 people live in five different buildings, O’Connell said, but she has given some thought as to what differentiates Enso Village.

Aerial of Enso Village as it nears completion. (Photo courtesy The Weitz Company)

“Everyone had a very specific purpose at the Zen Center,” she said. “Here, the purpose is more diffuse. So people are kind of interested in some of the same things, but there’s a lot more space.” She spoke of the spontaneous conversations that spring up among the residents, as well as the collaborative decision-making, environmental awareness and mutual mindfulness; all part of the designed environment Kendal brought to the project.

”There are senior communities who say, you know, we have a Zen spa or something,” she said with a laugh. “But we were really clear we needed to be authentic, and have certain physical elements that support interesting conversations.” Among them: There’s no central library at Enso, but rather a number of little nooks filled with related books to read, hopefully with interested readers.

“And we have training that the staff will do called mindful community training, which helps them understand how we best take care of each other,” O’Connell said.

Taking care of each other is a characteristic of community living that often seems a thing of the past. At Enso Village, it’s baked in.

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Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2008, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.


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