In the early 1970s, after experiencing an elderly family member needing additional care, Marion and Wally Johnson grew concerned over the lack of senior housing and care options in Berkeley. In response they conceived of the idea to build a model non-profit intermediate care facility in Berkeley.

At the time, Wally was the Mayor of Berkeley and Marion was a member of the Executive Board at the Berkeley Senior Housing Association. They evaluated the practicality of creating a home for aging seniors – but not just a home, a community as unique as the city itself. With Marion spearheading the effort, and with the backing of the Senior Housing Association, she was able to incorporate Chaparral Foundation in 1971 to achieve the goal. In her youth, Marion had spent many wonderful summers in the Santa Cruz Mountains at the first regional Girl Scout Camp on the West Coast – Camp Chaparral. So Chaparral House was born.

A Board of Trustees was organized consisting of community-oriented volunteers, and over the next seven years they worked to bring the project to fruition. Ground was broken in West Berkeley on February 14, 1977, on property that borders Strawberry Creek, which daylights in the rear of the yard. At last, on November 1, 1978, Marion, Wally and the governing board opened Chaparral’s doors to welcome the first twelve residents.

Non-profit, Skilled Nursing Eldercare Community

Over the years, the vision of Chaparral House has been cultivated from seed to living philosophy. In 1996, in response to new regulations and a greater need for a higher level of care, the Board of Directors upgrade Chaparral House from intermediate care to skilled nursing. Today, Chaparral is the only independent non-profit, skilled nursing eldercare community in the city. Thanks again to the Johnson’s, who donated the land, Chaparral House is on 2.4 creek-side acres in a vital Berkeley neighborhood that includes as neighbors, Strawberry Creek Park, Berkeley Youth Alternatives, Berkeley Montessori School, artist lofts and studios, and the senior independent living center Strawberry Creek Lodge.

To this day, Chaparral provides care for forty-nine frail elders in a dynamic, life-affirming, homelike environment where privacy and self-esteem are respected, freedom of choice and freedom of expression are encouraged, and opportunities for participation and contribution are encouraged.
After over 35 years, Chaparral House continues to look toward the future as we pay respect to our past. We are dedicated to upholding the values set forth by our founders, but we understand that ideas evolve, from seed to sapling to oftentimes things greater. We know that the belief a single idea can have lasting impact on a community is not only possible, but true.