At last year’s party, Jean Nell is surrounded by the friendship of her young neighbors at Beach City.

At last year’s party, Jean Nell is surrounded by the friendship of her young neighbors at Beach City. (Courtesy of St. George and Associates)

On Feb. 14, about half of the 450 college kids who live at the Beach City housing complex on Cliff Drive will get together for a Valentine’s Day house party, complete with food catered by Dave’s Dogs Grill, dessert and dancing to a DJ.

It sounds like a pretty typical Friday night at Beach City, where the managers regularly hold on-site social events for residents, virtually all of whom attend nearby Santa Barbara City College. The parties are held to give the young tenants, whose average age is 19, a fun, safe way to stay off the streets.

But Friday’s event will not be a typical college bash. At this party, the students and others, including such local officials as U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, will be celebrating the birthday of  special Beach City resident Jean Nell, who is turning 96 years old.

One of just three nonstudent residents at Beach City, Nell has lived in her second-story apartment there for 26 years. When developer Ed St. George bought the apartment complex several years ago, to convert it to student housing, he adopted Nell and the couple of other longtime elderly tenants there who had nowhere else to go.

Nell in particular thoroughly embraced her new neighbors, most of whom are young enough to be her great-great-grandchildren. And each year for the past five or so years, they have honored her by coming out in droves on Valentine’s Day to wish her a happy birthday.

“She loves the kids and they love her,” St. George said. “And she is very vital. She works at the hospital. She volunteers once a week. She’s always making cookies. She’s got her plants she takes care of …

“When I inherited her as a tenant, the first thing I told her was, ‘Hey, when we get a first-floor apartment open, we’ll move you down there. We’ll paint it. We’ll get you a new kitchen.’

“She said, ‘But then I won’t have my ocean view.’ I said, ‘But I get a little worried about you, on those stairs.’ She said, ‘Don’t you worry about me, Eddie. Besides, the stairs are good exercise for me.’ She’s a sweetheart; she really is.”

The success of blending generations at Beach City moved St. George to do it on purpose at another of his many student housing developments in Santa Barbara. At Campus 880 in Isla Vista, near UCSB, an older married couple — Julio and Reina — “are literally hired ‘grandparents.’”

“They live on-site. We pay them to live there,” St. George said. “Julio is a maintenance supervisor for UCSB. Reina takes care of the students’ apartments. She picks one or two each day, cleans them up and keeps an eye on the kids. Every Sunday morning, they make the kids a pancake breakfast,” St. George said.

The Campus 880 students have embraced having them there, St. George said. “Not everyone is so into their parents, but they love their grandparents, so it works out really well,” he said.

So well, in fact, that “we just hired another ‘grandparent’ couple for Beach City,” St. George said. “We’re going to be bringing them on in the next two or three months.”

They will be there in addition to Nell, who shows no signs of slowing down on her care for her young neighbors. “She’s so good for them, and clearly, they keep her young,” St. George said.

For more on St. George’s student housing developments, visit