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Name Not Long for This Leisure World

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Is it the end of Leisure World as we know it?

The venerable retirement community--which constitutes the vast majority of Laguna Woods, Orange County’s newest city--is likely to drop the Leisure World name altogether in coming months, possibly by the end of the year.

Two newer Leisure Worlds, in Silver Spring, Md., and near Leesburg, Va., have complicated the Laguna Woods community’s ability to use its own name on everything from brochures and letterhead to its telephone directories and shuttle buses.

So the Laguna Woods complex says it’s time to effectively sever ties with the heirs of Ross W. Cortese, the former fruit peddler and high school dropout whose dream of creating active adult communities across the globe left 24,000 retirement units sprinkled from Florida to California before his death in 1991.

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Possible replacement names include Casa de Laguna, the Village at Laguna Woods and the Villas, though the process is in its infancy.

Organizers plan to solicit name suggestions from Leisure World’s 18,000 residents, then, in all likelihood, take a short list of finalists to a ballot.

As of Monday afternoon, Leisure World residents had offered community leaders 138 suggestions for new names, said Isabel Muennichow, a Leisure World resident who serves on the community’s Name Change Subcommittee.

“I don’t think we should jump to conclusions,” said Marion Rosenstein, a retiree and a former decorator from Connecticut who also serves on the Name Change Subcommittee.

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“I think the name should be short and sweet and easy to spell. That’s how I feel about it for now.”

Although it would be possible to simply adopt the name of the city, Laguna Woods, as the name of the development, most agree that would be “extremely confusing,” Muennichow said.

The need for a name change stems from a confounding situation in which the homeowners association owns the property but one arm of the development company, RRLH Inc., controls the name “Leisure World.”

That means the community needs a licensing agreement to use the words “Leisure World” on just about everything.

Temporary agreements also are needed periodically if, for example, the development wants to present awards or plaques to its board of directors.

For years, the licensing of the name wasn’t much of an issue--not in comparison, anyway, to this year’s drive to make Laguna Woods the county’s 32nd city.

But about five years ago, when Orange County real estate took a brief dive, Laguna Woods-Leisure World governors launched a marketing drive to ensure their community is “in the forefront” of new retirees’ minds, said Leisure World communications manager Tanya McElhaney.

Once the Laguna Woods-Leisure World governors decided to use the words “Leisure World” in an Internet site, Heidi Cortese, Ross Cortese’s heir and the chairwoman and chief executive of the development company’s umbrella organization, took notice.

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The development company, Corona del Mar-based RCC Inc., “did wish to protect that name and those rights,” said its attorney, Rick Sherman.

The company asked Laguna Woods organizers to submit a list of the ways they planned to use the words “Leisure World,” McElhaney said. Eventually, she said, it became clear that a new name would help the community avoid stumbling over trademark issues.

“It looms over us,” she said. “All of a sudden we became a lot more highly visible than what [Heidi Cortese] had been accustomed to.”

The timing is right, she said. The Laguna Woods development, for example, is still a retirement community but is younger and more energetic than it was in past years, making the “Leisure” part of the name a bit outdated. And the community owns a hunk of land off Moulton Parkway, where it might build more homes in coming years.

“What are we going to call those? They’re Leisure World--but they’re not?” McElhaney asked. “We’re really thinking long-term. It’s fine now, but what if we want to do something in the future?”

Most residents seem weary of the trademark issues--and eager to strike out on their own, under their own name.

“I’m delighted that they might change it,” Rosenstein said. “I don’t think the community should be restricted as to how they use their name.”

Leaders of the name-change drive hope they aren’t creating grounds for discord.

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“Everybody knows this as Leisure World, and some of our people don’t like any change,” Muennichow said. “But I hope it will be even better after this.”

The name change would not affect the Seal Beach Leisure World, which relies less on the Leisure World name and more on the legal name of its homeowners association, Seal Beach administrator Bill Narang said.

Times correspondent Andrew Glazer contributed to this report.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

What’s in a Name?

Leisure World in Laguna Woods is considering changing its name as a result of a trademark dispute with founder Ross W. Cortese’s heirs. Several other Cortese-built senior communities have adopted new names.

Rossmore

Walnut Creek, California, 9,000 residents

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Leisure World

Seal Beach, California, 8,700 residents *

Leisure World

Laguna Woods, California, 18,000 residents

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Leisure World

Mesa, Arizona, 4,300 residents

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Rossmore

Jamesburg, New Jersey, 3,500 residents

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Leisure World

Silver Spring, Maryland, 7,000 residents

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Leisure World

Leesburg, Virginia, 400 residents

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Wynmoor

Coconut Creek, Florida, 9,000 residents

Graphics reporting by BRADY MacDONALD/ Los Angeles Times


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