Story by Diti Kohli
After stepping into the Davenport Memorial Home, guests are greeted by smiling porpoises laid into the tile on the floor of the entrance and an intricate red rug in the foyer. Decades-old A.H. Davenport Company furniture and antiques furnish every visible corner of the building.
Nestled prominently between the public library and the high school, the Salem Street mansion does not hide from Malden residents. But the senior living facility’s brick exterior and perfectly manicured lawn do not attract questions from locals.
Rachel Burke, Davenport’s assistant administrator, said it is Malden’s best kept secret. “A lot of people know the building, but not what’s in the building,” she said.
For 73 years, the Davenport has been a non-profit residential home for Malden senior citizens, while preserving the mansion’s centuries-old architecture and the culture it represented. The Salem Street mansion was once the family home of the Davenports, Malden natives with vast political influence who opened the First Baptist Church near the home. Patriarch A.H. Davenport founded the Davenport Furniture Company, which supplied furniture to famous clients, including the White House and the Royal Palace of Hawaii.
His daughter, Alice May Davenport, inherited the mansion from her father. And in a 1943 letter to her eventual executor, Mr. Wiggans, she discussed turning the home into a senior living facilty after she died. Her dream came to fruition when the Davenport Memorial Home welcomed its first residents in 1946.
The building’s three floors mimic how the mansion looked back in 1892 when it was constructed. Two smaller rooms and a long dining table surround the main room in the middle of the first floor. Residents live in rooms on the second floor, and the bookkeeper’s office and storage space occupy the third level. Everything else happens in the basement–– billiards, arts and crafts activities, and even laundry.
The building contains 12 individual guest rooms that can each house up to two people. Currently, the home’s occupancy stands at 11 residents: nine single women in their own rooms and a married couple. Only one room currently sits empty.
Residents are encouraged to continue their normal lives after moving in. Most own cars, which are parked in the back; many leave every day to complete personal errands, visit friends, and volunteer in the community.
Barbara Brown, former Davenport Home board member, current resident, and Malden native, said she enjoys the freedom the home’s regulations offer its occupants.
“I like the way that everyone has their own place,” said Brown. “No one is dictating to you what you have to eat, what to do…though I’m not fussy.”
Meal times and group activities are the only daily scheduled events at the Davenport. If guests provide advance notice, they can easily opt out of these as well.
Three-year Davenport resident June Macdonald said this structure brings residents together.
“That level of structure can be challenging, but I wouldn’t want that to change because we don’t want to drift out of people’s lives. It builds community,” said Macdonald.
Each resident pays $2,400 a month to live in the home, and couples pay $600 more. The revenue covers rent, meals, staff salaries, and other living expenses. Occupants are responsible for handling the costs of their own medical bills and prescriptions.
Head Administrator Beth Walsh said living at the Davenport was free to all residents until the 2008 financial crisis, supported by its board’s investments beforehand. Today, if a resident cannot afford the rent, the board considers adjusting the payment requirement based on an evaluation of the resident’s savings and income.
In addition, nursing staff remains on-site at all times, though this is not legally a requirement, said Walsh.
Though many covet living in the home, the Davenport is known for being historically selective. Applicants initiate an extensive process when asking for a room in the mansion. The application contains social, financial, and medical components, requires three references, and healthcare and power of attorney information, among other information.
When it was first established as a retirement home in 1946, residents had to fulfill many specific qualifications set by the original Board of Trustees. To reside in the estate, applicants had to be Protestant, above age 65, a United States citizen, a Malden resident for two decades, married for 30 years, and in good health.
Today, residents are still required to be Protestant and sell their home in order to live at the Davenport. But many of the other restrictions have been loosened to accommodate the needs of more applicants.
Like many other hopefuls, Macdonald believed she wouldn’t be allowed to live at the Davenport when considering retirement five years ago. She only applied after hearing about the new qualifications from her friends.
“I had a home here in Malden, but I thought I couldn’t afford to live here if I wasn’t working and that I hadn’t been living in Malden long enough,” said Macdonald.
The Davenport’s Board contacted the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy recently to potentially allow individuals of other faiths to legally live in the home. Legal alterations to the living requirements were initially brought to the probate court, said Walsh.
“The Davenport is special because they preserve things,” Burke said. “It’s a really hard thing with the way the world is now. Everyone would rather just throw things away.”
Contact the Davenport Home at (718)-324-0150 or at Beth.firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to schedule a tour.