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Rossmoor History

Portrait of Ross Cortese
Ross Cortese

The Senior Community of Rossmoor first opened in 1964 with HUD-approved co-op housing. The community, originally known as “Leisure World,” was the brainchild of Ross Cortese, who saw the growing population of older citizens and felt their special needs were not being met. His innovative dream was to create self-contained senior communities, offering rewarding living for average individuals whose busy professional and child-rearing days were ending, but who were still interested in active and enriched living. He wanted to establish a country-club atmosphere that would be in reach of the average senior.

He established several other Leisure World communities throughout the country. Walnut Creek became Cortese’s third locale, preceded by Seal Beach and Laguna Hills. There are also communities in New Jersey, Maryland and Arizona. Today, all of the Leisure Worlds are independently operated, but many still use the Leisure World name.

Portrait of Robert Dollar of the Dollar Steamship Lines
Robert Dollar of the Dollar Steamship Lines

Cortese purchased the Rossmoor, Walnut Creek, property from the Dollar family of the Dollar Steamship Lines in early 1960. The Dollar family developed the 2,200 acre showplace estate, where they raised horses and prize purebred Hereford cattle. The Dollar family summer home is still part of Rossmoor and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

After Cortese purchased the ranch in early 1960 from R. Stanley Dollar, he worked with the Walnut Creek Planning Commission on rezoning for a senior housing development and annexation to the city. He received that approval in 1963. Today, Rossmoor takes up 1,800 acres in the heart of the Tice Valley area of Walnut Creek.

Cortese loved the Golden Rain tree and planted it throughout the community, named a street and even the Rossmoor governing body after it.

The Golden Rain Tree on Rossmoor Parkway

Cortese’s first 3,300 “manors” were all co-ops, insured by the Federal Housing Administration. He originally planned to build 10,000 manors with an estimated 17,000 residents. The Walnut Creek Planning Commission later reduced that number to 7,350, and today, Rossmoor is totally built out with a combination of approximately  6,700 co-ops, condominiums, single-family homes and congregate living with a population of more than 9,600 people.

Entrance to Leisure World, Walnut Creek
Leisure World, Walnut Creek

Today, Cortese’s daughter, Heidi Cortese, has developed a website featuring all seven original Leisure Worlds, including Rossmoor Walnut Creek. To find out more about Rossmoor and all the Leisure World communities, go to All the communities are operated independently.

Three developers followed Cortese after he left in 1969—Terra California, UDC Homes and Shea Homes. All built significantly different styles of homes from what Cortese started and all discontinued the co-op development plan.

Cortese envisioned a community full of amenities—a golf course, swimming pools, tennis courts, a medical center, clubhouses and even stables. From the beginning, he wanted outside maintenance and landscaping to be covered.

Today, Rossmoor has more amenities and leisure activities than even Cortese could have imagined. There are five clubhouses and an event center, a fitness center, 27 holes of golf, eight tennis courts, a state-of-the-art table tennis clubhouse, lawn bowling greensbocce ball courts, three swimming facilities (one enclosed), picnic grounds, a computer center, a full-service library, a bridge/card room, a movie theater, hobby and arts shops, a full-service restaurant and bar and a dog park. Rossmoor also has a 24-hour security service staffing the front gate and bus service.

A medical center, right outside the gate, is leased by John Muir Health Outpatient Center. Several medical facilities are also right outside the gate.

Today, Rossmoor is a nationally recognized community for seniors who are 55 and older. It has probably surpassed all that Cortese had wished for. It is a place of comfort, beauty and serenity, enjoyment and enrichment that is home to people from all over the world.