Thursday, September 3, 2015

Holy Rollin': Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine

After many seasons of unfulfilled promises to get myself there, I finally made it to the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades, CA.  And you know what I self-realized?  I'm kind of a jerk.

Like this, for example:

My sister-in-law, Erika, was trying to capture a serene moment of the Shrine's lush gardens on camera;
instead of taking a cue from her, I just stood there trying to capture awkward shots of her trying to
capture those serene moments.

Incidentally, this was the picture she took.
Pretty pretty, huh?

Growing up in a household with five boisterous kids and two very outspoken parents; it was anything any one of us could do to sustain the floor for more than seven seconds.  In that type of environment, whispering was just not an important skill for survival.  Consequently, I continue to lack in that department, particularly when I am excited about something cool (see: I'm a noisy jerk)!  The Lake Shrine is very cool!

Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine - Pacific Palisades, CA

Just off bustling Sunset Boulevard, the Lake Shrine feels miles away from the real world.  The shrine's centerpiece is, of course, Lake Santa Ynez, the only accidental, spring-fed lake in the city of Los Angeles.  Surrounding the lake is about a half-mile trail that encourages visitors to stop, meditate, and and appreciate the beauty of nature in respectful silence.

The Lake Shrine began life in the 1920s as "Inceville," the movie studios of producer Thomas Ince (you know, the guy who was allegedly murdered aboard William Randolph Hearst's yacht).  After his death, the land was mostly ignored, changing hands a couple times before being being brought to life by H. Everett "Big Mac" McElroy.  He and his wife transformed what was essentially overgrown swampland into a tranquil oasis.  Mr. McElroy developed the property with several buildings before selling it in the late-1940s to an oil company executive who had intentions of turning the land into a luxury resort.  What followed is the stuff of hippy-dippy apocrypha (see: I'm a cynical jerk).  Apparently, the executive was woken from his sleep multiple times by a dream that instructed him to turn the land into a church of and for all religions.  He wrote a letter to Guru Paramahansa Yogananda, the founder of Hollywood's "Self-Realization Fellowship Church of All Religions," (an unusually on-the-nose find for a perfunctory search through The Yellow Pages) and had no sooner licked the stamp than he received a call from the good guru inquiring about the land's potential as church headquarters.  Talk about timing!

The Self-Realization Fellowship is dedicated to fostering the common principles of the 
world's five major religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and....and...and Buddhism, and 
Hindu (I couldn't find those pillars of faith to photograph).

Needless to say, Lake Santa Ynez and the surrounding land, dedicated for Fellowship service in 1950, are now in the hands of the Self-Realization Fellowship.  The property also houses the Fellowship's large temple; as it was closed for tours on our adventure day, we joyfully resigned ourselves to touring the "big three" landmarks of the Lake Shrine.

We went that-a-way!

Traveling counterclockwise along a freshly-mulched redwood path, our first encounter was with the World Peace Memorial dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi.

I can't think of a more peaceful place in Los Angeles for for the World Peace Memorial,
its gleaming, golden lotus a symbol of the soul's awakening to the notion of world peace.

Entombed in an ancient Chinese sarcophagus at the heart of the memorial, rest
a portion of Gandhi's ashes, (the only place outside of India with that honor).

Built under the supervision of Paramahansaji, the memorial is a "wall-less"
temple whose archways perfectly frame the Lake Shrine and its landmarks.

Directly across the lake is the mill home of Mr. & Mrs. McElroy, the second of the Lake Shrine's major landmarks.

Enchanted by the architecture of 16th-Century Holland,
Mrs. McElroy insisted that a home be built in the style of an old mill. 

To complete the look, a functional windmill was added following the home's initial construction.

The windmill now serves as a sanctuary for meditation where complete silence is enforced.
Erika got in trouble for the noise emanating from her camera's shutter when she took this
photo.  I'm just glad she captured the Lake Shrine's giant waterfall and that I wasn't the
one collared for the camera caper (see: I may be an opportunistic jerk but I'm no patsy).

We tried pinning it on the swans but as trusting and peace-loving as the Fellowship folks are, they were not buying it.
As it turns out, swans are incapable of operating a simple digital camera.  And everybody loooves a swan.

Dismissed from the mill house, we continued on our path to self-realization and the third of the Lake Shrine's major landmarks (watermarks?), a houseboat.

The Adeline

I have spent years laboring under the delusion that the houseboat harbored in the calm waters of Lake Santa Ynez was the very houseboat used in the 1958 Cary Grant/Sophia Loren vehicle Houseboat. (How's that for using "houseboat" three times in one sentence?)

Obviously not.
But what about if you removed some of the gingerbread and painted it and...?

I blame this misunderstanding on Huell Howser.

The Adeline is actually the original home in which the McElroy's lived during construction of the mill house.  Moving their Streamline Moderne houseboat from its mooring in Lake Mead to Lake Santa Ynez, the couple eventually turned it into a guest house for visiting celebrities and dignitaries.  So, potentially, Cary Grant could have stayed there...but probably not (see: I'm a snobby, Hollywood history jerk).

"Keep calm and KEEP QUIET!!!"

Even if you don't go in for that meditation jazz, it is nice to know that a sanctuary like this exists right in the middle of Los Angeles.  It is a rare treat to find a space where one can just go and be quiet - or the closest approximation to quiet that a noisy, cynical, snobby jerk can achieve.

Don't wait go to take your own journey toward self-realization at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine or you just might end up as jerky as I (see: I am a grammar jerk - who is often grammatically incorrect).

"The Old Mill" (1937)

Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine & Temple
17190 Sunset Blvd
Pacific Palisades, CA


Mr. Tiny


  1. what a beautiful place! i love that windmill house! and i'm cracking up at your inability to whisper. Travis literally CAN"T whisper. It is hilarious to hear him try, it is so loud!

    1. I don't why it took me so long to get here; it is awesome!! The only thing that made me feel better is that there were several older women who were "whispering" way more loudly than we were. Hahahaha!!!

  2. Love your adventures. Its like we get to go with you without leaving home! Just saw some groovy LIberace albums at the flea mart? Ever think about doing a bit on him? He is so kitsch but he went thru a groovy hippie stage too on some of his albums. LOL.

    1. Thank you! Funny that you should mention Liberace; I just went to a party where there was a performance given by someone suspiciously Liberace-esque. Coincidentally, I was wearing a bow tie that came from the Liberace Museum!