For nearly forty years, a sixteen-story tower sitting directly north of Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake) at 21 Waller Street has been providing quality, affordable housing for seniors in Austin, Texas. With stunning views of both downtown and the Lake, RBJ Center offers 250 apartment units to seniors at affordable rental rates. Of these, 138 units are one-bedroom apartments and 112 are studio apartments. The ground floor includes an abundance of community spaces, including a large community room and a library, in addition to the management offices. RBJ Center is owned and operated by the Austin Geriatric Center, Inc. (AGC), a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization formed exclusively for the purpose of developing, owning and managing this retirement community.
The idea for the RBJ Center was developed during President Lyndon Johnson's term of office. Sitting on what was previously the site of a federal fish hatchery, the Austin Geriatric Center (led by Frank C. Erwin, Jr.) was able to acquire the land, then approximately 27 acres, when the fish hatchery land was declared surplus. The vision of President Johnson - and the Austin Geriatric Center, Inc. - was to create a continuum of housing and healthcare for older persons at this location, to include independent apartment units and nursing beds, along with a specialized gerontology program with the Department of Nursing at the University of Texas. While today this campus approach to a continuum of care for seniors is widely heralded, in 1969 the concept was light years ahead of its time. Between 1968 and 1972 the 250 unit residential apartment tower was constructed on the current 18-acre site and a 168 bed nursing facility was constructed on the adjacent 9 acres. Each was separately financed through a federally insured mortgage. The residential tower was named in honor of President Johnson's mother, Rebekah Baines Johnson.
Although the apartments have been highly successful, the nursing home failed in the 1970s as the regulations for nursing home certification changed midway during construction, compromising project feasibility. The City of Austin ultimately acquired the nursing home building and its 9-acre site, and converted the nursing facility into an office building now known as "RBJ Health Administration Building" and which includes offices for Central Health (formerly the Travis County Healthcare District), Emergency Medical Services (City of Austin), and other related City health offices.