High-rise living from a child's perspective

Posted on Thu, 12/01/2016 - 10:30am

By Beth Robinson

Elaine Rojas-CastilloPeople sometimes ask what it is like to be a child in a high-rise community. In Kay Thompson’s children’s book, Eloise is a little girl who lives in the Plaza Hotel. Out of place in a world full of grown-ups, she lives a charmed life making mischief, talking with pigeons and crashing wedding receptions.

Since it opened in 1971, Malibu East has been home to multiple generations of children who have grown up in the building. Malibu East is not the Plaza Hotel, and the children who have grown up here have a more settled life and are much better-behaved than Eloise. Though definitely in the minority, children have a significant presence here. On the elevator, adult conversation dissolves into cooing when a baby appears. At the pool, the playful splashing bunch negotiates space with the serene floating crowd.

From the time she can remember, Charlene Linke spent her childhood in Malibu East. Her mother, Grace Cabrera, and her father moved into the building when Charlene was two years old. An only child, Charlene says she felt protected in the building, surrounded by loving, caring adults. Her mother befriended another resident, Jean Joe, who was Charlene’s babysitter when her mother worked. Charlene attended Sacred Heart School up the street and came home to her “Auntie” Jean’s apartment until she was old enough to be home alone. Charlene‘s parents, who are Filipino, taught her to use “Auntie” to show respect for people older than she was. Other neighbors gave her attention as well, including Zeny Villa-Ignacio and Rochelle Allen. Charlene felt secure, coming home to a building with a doorman who knew her and friendly neighbors. In fact, even as an adult, she cannot get used to the idea of living in a single-family home. It feels open and vulnerable to her.

When she graduated from high school, Charlene went to college and moved away from home. Her mother always said that the Malibu East condo would be Charlene’s one day, but Charlene was happy living in her own apartment and did not think about returning to the building. Then her mother passed away and her stepfather moved out of the condo. By then Charlene was married and needed a larger space. So she moved back to the apartment she grew up in. The apartment looks different now because Charlene and her husband completely remodeled it, but it is still her childhood home. Rochelle Allen, the neighbor with whom she grew up, still lives on the floor. Charlene feels bittersweet about coming back to what she thought of as her mother’s home, but now it feels like her home, too.

Jorge Scerba was born a few months after his parents moved into Malibu East in 1971. He thinks he was the first baby born to residents of the building. He also went to Sacred Heart School and had a babysitter in the building who watched him when his parents worked. Jorge remembers having a lot of fun as a child, playing with friends who lived in the building. He recalls going to the Racquetball Court to practice swinging a bat with tennis balls and hanging out in the playroom, which was located where the Management Office is now. On Halloween, children trick-or-treated in the building, but at that time there were no ribbons or flyers marking the doors of neighbors who wanted to give out treats. As a result, kids sometimes knocked on the doors of people who were not prepared for trick-or-treaters, leading to awkward encounters. He has a picture of himself with Santa Claus at a building party.

Though born more than a decade after Jorge, Elaine Rojas-Castillo also has fond memories of celebrations in the building, including the annual holiday party and her “Sweet 16” in the Windjammer Room. She was part of the “Children’s Committee,” a group that helped to plan Halloween parties and other child-focused events. According to Elaine, one of the best aspects of living here is “the awesome staff. Some of them, like (doorman) James Bolante, have known me since the day my parents brought me home from the hospital.”

Like all high-rise dwellers, children run into many people on a daily basis in the elevator or in the garage. At a young age, they learn to interact with a variety of people whom they see infrequently, people who may remember them and pause to chat or ask questions. Jorge says that he received attention regularly but was not always sure whom to say “hello” to. Elaine looked forward to elevator rides as a chance to greet someone.

Charlene, Elaine and Jorge spent time at the swimming pools in the summer. Though he sometimes had to be reminded to follow the pool rules, Jorge recalls being so impressed with the lifeguard that, for a while, he wanted to be a lifeguard when he grew up. Today, Jorge works for Sam’s Club and is a writer.

In a high-rise, we share public space with our neighbors. I raised two children in the building. When my younger daughter was a few years old, we used to walk together to take the recycling to the bulk room, located at the opposite end of the hallway. The bulk room always made her a little nervous – a closed door, dark on the inside until someone turned on the light switch. After leaving the recyclables in the bins, we returned to the hallway, a long, straight shot back to our apartment, and that’s when the game started. One of us was the cat and the other, the mouse; and the cat chased the mouse all the way home. As long as no one else appeared in the hallway, we ran as fast as we could, with the mouse streaking down the hallway to avoid capture. But, because it was a public space, we had one rule: No noise. The mouse couldn’t squeal and the cat couldn’t hiss.