Lakeside Paradise In Pacific Palisades

Old Mar 6th, 2021, 10:37 AM
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Lakeside Paradise In Pacific Palisades

It’s not often I mention Elvis Presley, Tom Petty, George Harrison and Mahatma Gandhi in a post (ok, never), but then again I had never been to the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades before. In fact, until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of it. However, this oasis of tranquility located a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean should be on everyone’s list to visit. This quarter mile walk around the lake has much to offer, and the story of its origins, along with the man who made it all a reality, is truly fascinating. The founding of this spot was “literally a dream come true." Come join Tracy and me in the link below as we take you to a gorgeous and peaceful piece of paradise where we will most certainly return in the near future. It even contains some of the ashes of the aforementioned Mahatma Gandhi. (story with photos in link below ... story without photos below two photos)

Elvis Presley became enamored of this little piece of paradise on his visits to Southern California. Memorial services for both George Harrison and Tom Petty were held here. There are even some of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes interred here. Yet, until recently, I had never heard of the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, situated in the hills of Pacific Palisades located just a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean.

Although I’ve lived in Southern California for my entire life, it still offers up surprises for me. So, when I found out the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine was open for visitors, Tracy and I made online reservations, and on a gorgeous, sunny Friday morning, we traveled to this serene spot.

The story how this area eventually became an “open-air shrine of all religions” is “literally a dream-come-true.” In the early 1920s this area in Santa Ynez Canyon was used as a locale for silent movies. In 1927, the land was hydraulically graded to make room for a future development project that never came to fruition because the earthmoving activities had to be stopped due to the “large basin quickly filling up with water from the many springs in the area, forming Lake Santa Ynez.”

The land remained undeveloped until 1940 when H. Everett McElroy, the assistant superintendent of construction for 20th Century Fox, purchased the property. His vision included “terraced gardens surrounding the lake with rustic bridges and waterfalls creating a private coastal paradise.” He and his wife transported a double-deck, “Mississippi-styled houseboat” from Lake Meade and constructed a “quaint mill house with water-wheel (now a gift shop and museum), and erected an authentic model of a Dutch windmill.”

The houseboat eventually was rented out to “film stars and movie industry people, while the McElroys lived in the mill house. In 1948 they sold the property to oil executive Joseph Gross. Gross envisioned a resort that included a 150-room hotel surrounding Lake Santa Ynez. That vision was drastically altered one night when Gross had a recurring dream that the property should be made into a “Church Of All Religions.” He had never heard of such a thing, but that dream kept coming to him.

In the wee hours of the morning, he looked up “Church Of All Religions” in the telephone book, and, as the website states, “composed a letter to be mailed the next morning, offering to sell his property, before going back to bed.”

It goes on to say, “Later the next day, Gross telephoned the Self-Realization Fellowship Church of All Religions in Hollywood, and the call was given to Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian monk, yogi and guru who helped introduce Americans, along with thousands of others worldwide, to the teachings of meditation and yoga. Yogananda began speaking even before Gross could introduce himself. “You have some property for sale, don’t you? When can I see it?”

“But you haven’t received my letter,” Gross replied. “The letter will come tomorrow morning,” Yogananda told him. “Can we meet tomorrow afternoon?”

After Yogananda paid a visit to the lake the following day, thanks to donations by numerous benefactors, he purchased the property from Gross. The Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine opened to the public in August 1950 with 1,500 people in attendance, including the California Lt. Governor Edwin Knight. A few years later Knight would become California’s 31st governor.

A limited amount of people are allowed daily into the Lake Shrine, which opens at noon. We arrived shortly thereafter, and after receiving Covid guidelines from one of the docents and being advised that a gong would sound on the hour for prayers, which we could participate in if so were so inclined, he shared a prayer card: “Peace unto my Family, Peace unto my City, Peace unto my Country, Peace unto my World.” It was now time to take the 1/4 mile stroll around the lake. The 10-acre natural amphitheater serves as a “meditation garden.”

The first thing you notices as you enter the Court of Religion are the colorful and fragrant flowers surrounding this lakeside paradise. Throughout the perfectly manicured grounds at this time of the year, azaleas, camellias, primroses, orange clivia, cyclamens and brilliant blue Senetti are in full bloom, as are the tulip magnolia trees.

The five principal religions of the world are represented here … the Cross of Christianity, the Star of David for Judaism …

.. a Wheel of Law for Buddhism, a Star and Crescent for Islam and the Sanskrit character Aura for Hinduism.

Yogananda preached that “we must recognize the unity of mankind.” From this vantage point, you can also get a full view of the lake and the different places we would visit on our walk.

A docent told us that in April and May the Court of Religion is awash with colorful roses. Hopefully, we’ll return when they’re in bloom.

Also from this spot we spied the Lake Shrine Temple (currently closed) high atop the nearby hill that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. A Golden Lotus sits on top of the building, which incorporates both Eastern and Western architectural styles.

Below it, on the hillside, is a statue of Jesus.

Tracy and I took the path down to the Sunken Gardens, where the “tropical plants are a representation of the Madonna and Child.”

There is also a Meditation Grotto, where one can sit under a canopy amidst those tropical plants.

Statues can be found interspersed among the flowers and flora.

As we started our clockwise stroll around the lake …

… in the foreground stood the Windmill Chapel.

The chapel is an exact duplicate of a 16th-century Dutch windmill.

As stated before, the windmill had been here before the guru purchased the Lake Shrine property.

Before the Lake Shrine Temple (where memorials for Harrison and Petty were held) was constructed, services were held here. We took a gander inside the chapel, which is not open during these Covid times.

Although there were no ganders, you will notice plenty of swans drifting on the lake, although signs of Tchaikovsky were nowhere to be found.

Along the pathway, colorful benches serve as a respite for visitors, inviting them to rest and meditate as they gaze upon this tranquil oasis.

It was a short distance from the chapel to the Houseboat and Landing, where the Yogi would sit in prayer and meditation for hours at a time.

Yogananda would even use the houseboat to help in the development of the property.

The path along the lake was even more beautiful as we walked toward the Golden Lotus Archway …

… which can be seen at virtually every vantage point.

Yogananda designed the archway, which is located across from the Windmill Chapel.

There are large copper lotuses atop the archway, which are covered with “a golden finish.”

The website states: “In India, the stately lotus flower is a symbol of divine unfoldment … the awakening of the soul to its infinite potential.”

We came upon Krishna Falls, where we spotted the statue of Bhagavan Krishna overlooking the lake.

The next stop was the Gandhi World Peace Memorial.

The memorial was dedicated by the Yogi and Lt. Governor Knight, and it holds some of the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi.

It was Gandhi who instructed Yogananda in the art of Kriya Yoga in 1935.

On either side of the 1,000-year-old Chinese stone sarcophagus are statues of Kwan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.

At the end of our journey around the lake, we popped into the gift store and museum chronicling Paramahansa Yogananda’s life. Inside is a collection of artifacts and objects that grateful devotees and friends donated to him on his travels.

Besides knowing he would purchase this property, in 1952 Yogananda also foresaw his own death. He mentioned to friends and disciples that it was “time for him to leave this world.” On March 7 of that year he attended a banquet for the Indian Ambassador to the U.S. at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. As he ended his speech, the Yogi lifted his eyes upward and fell to the floor. The cause of death was determined to be heart failure. He was 59.

But his story does not end with his death. Yogananda was interred in a casket with a glass lid at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. For three weeks his body did not show any sign of decay.

A notarized statement from Harry T. Rowe, Forest Lawn’s mortuary director, stated, it is "the most extraordinary case in our experience … this state of perfect preservation of a body is, so far as we know from mortuary annals, an unparalleled one … a phenomenal state of immutability … no odor of decay emanated from his body at any time …for these reasons we state again that the case of Paramahansa Yogananda is unique in our experience.”

As far as visiting the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, we highly recommend that if you’re going to be in the vicinity, it is well worth your effort to go online and make a reservation to stop into this oasis of serenity. In these times of stressful events and Covid, a little reflection, relaxation and meditation amidst these lush gardens could be just what the Yogi ordered.

maitaitom is online now  
Old Mar 13th, 2021, 11:12 AM
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Beautiful report! The story on how it began is indeed fascinating. To think it all literally started with a dream.

The Lake Shrine is not very far from me. I remember driving past it once and seeing the sign. It looks a lot bigger than I imagined and the flowers are gorgeous and all that calming lushness. I'm inspired to go. And when I do I'll time it like you guys. .. just when it opens.

Thank you for sharing. I hope there's a sequel TR for the upcoming roses in May!!
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Old Mar 13th, 2021, 01:10 PM
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Friends of ours got married there in the 1970s!

Thanks for the report, tom.
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Old Mar 16th, 2021, 10:07 AM
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Jean, On my website replies and on Facebook, I bet 30 other people have told me they have either been married there or know a friend who has been married there. I can't believe in 68 years of living in So. Cal, I had never heard of this place.
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Old Mar 18th, 2021, 11:23 AM
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That sounds like a very interesting place to visit. Thanks for the report.n
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