Inside Stories

At age 99, I moved to a luxury senior living facility. Here’s what it’s like

  • Barbara Fleischman left an eight-room duplex with river views for a one-bedroom rental
  • She stays busy advocating for cultural programming and working out with her trainer
By Marjorie Cohen  |
November 28, 2023 - 9:30AM
Barbara Fleischman with Chef Jim at Sunrise at 56th

Barbara Fleischman with Chef Jim. "Sometimes it takes a while for the food to be served but that’s because it’s actually being cooked after you order it. The wait is always worth it," she says.

For 50 years, Barbara Fleischman, 99, lived in an eight-room duplex apartment at United Nations Plaza with a sweeping view of the East River. Three months ago, she moved 10 blocks north to a one bedroom at Sunrise at East 56th, part of a fast-growing chain of luxury independent living facilities.

These days, New York seniors can take their pick from upscale developments that offer independent, assisted/enhanced, and memory care—all under one roof. These communities offer an active lifestyle, with an array of educational and cultural programming and in dignified settings that emphasize wellness. But these facilities can be pricey; studios at Sunrise start at $12,000 a month. 

Barbara shared with Brick what it was like to make such a major lifestyle change.

[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's Inside Stories features first-person accounts of dramatic, real-life New York City real estate experiences. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]

Tell us about where you lived before you moved. 

I lived a very interesting New York life. We moved from Detroit with three children and a dachshund and over the years, I was able to partake of so many things the city has to offer. My husband was a partner in Kennedy Galleries, dealers in American art. Our apartment was an eight-room duplex on the top floors of our building; it had five and a half baths. But, at 99 years old, did I really need five baths and all those rooms? 

My daughter organized my move; she is the one who helped me every step of the way. She was wonderful.

How did you choose Sunrise?

When it came time to choose I wanted to take a look at a place where my good friends, Dr. and Mrs. Clifton Wharton, were living. I thought I’d go and see what that was all about. It was the first and only place that I saw. I loved the architecture of the building and the friendliness and warmth of all the staff. I was hoping to be placed in an apartment near the Whartons and sure enough, now I’m right down the hall from them. They’ve been here a year.

What was moving like? Physically and emotionally?

Surprisingly, it was not difficult at all. My daughter thought it would be hard for me but it really wasn’t. It was so nice meeting new people from different backgrounds and with different experiences. 

I chose to take the least valuable of my art and furniture with me. My husband and I had been collectors of American art and furniture over the years. What we didn’t take will go on auction.

What were the first few days at Sunrise like? 

When I first came to Sunrise, the residents and staff were quite welcoming. My dear friend Dolores Wharton organized a welcome party for me. I wasn’t expecting such a wonderful reception and I was very touched by it. 

What does living at Sunrise cost?

Studios start at $12,000 per month and one- and two-bedroom apartments at $23,000. Extra activities, such as tickets to plays and museum admissions, are paid for out of residents’ accounts, which are handled by the billing department. The resident services director, who provides concierge-type services, coordinates activities and accounts. [Note: This information was supplied by Sunrise.]

What’s your apartment like?

My one bedroom has a foyer and a small living room. All the paintings and photos and furniture that I chose to take with me are here. My room is so bright that when I went back to my old apartment building for a dinner party I walked in and thought, ‘Gee, it’s so dark in here.’ At Sunrise my view is 56th Street; in my old apartment I was overlooking the water and the bridge, but I don’t mind the change.

What do you like about the common spaces?

Everything is so light and airy. The furniture is lovely, so wherever you go, it’s nice to be. All very welcoming. I love to go up on the 16th floor where there’s an outside space where I can go out and sit among the plants and have a think. In fact, I do some of my best thinking up there. 

And the meals? How are they?

Chef Jim is from Cafe Luxembourg on the West Side and he’s just terrific. Sometimes it takes a while for the food to be served but that’s because it’s actually being cooked after you order it. The wait is always worth it. 

If you want to substitute one thing for another on the menu they never say, ‘No, we don’t do that.’ All they seem to want to do is to please you. 

What keeps you busy and engaged at Sunrise?

Life does not stop when you get old. I have been a professional volunteer all my life. I’ve been on the boards of the Frick, the New York Public Library, the Library for the Performing Arts and other institutions. I am on the resident council here and I’m working on making this a place of culture. I had lunch today with the chairman of the Library for the Performing Arts and when I asked whether she’d come to us to talk about her institution she liked the idea. 

One of the residents has a son who is on the board of the New-York Historical Society. We’re going to ask him to help arrange a program for our residents. Juilliard gives college-level courses here and provides students who come to play piano for us. And we’ll be going to see the Nutcracker soon. 

We have a gym here and I have a trainer who works with me on the machines. But, if you’re not like me and you just want to relax and do nothing, that’s possible too. It’s all up to you. 

What about the staff?

The warmth and friendliness of the staff is amazing. This is not an institution. The staff has been partnering with us on developing programs and I’ve never heard any of them say ‘I never heard of that.’ or ‘We’ve never done that.’



Marjorie Cohen

Contributing writer

Marjorie Cohen is a New York City-based freelance journalist, editor and author of over seven non-fiction books. Her real estate reporting has appeared in amNewYork, Investopedia, and The West Side Rag. Since moving to New York five decades ago for graduate school at the Teachers College of Columbia University, Marjorie has lived on the Upper West Side, with a brief detour to West 15th Street when she got six months free rent in a new building.

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