For Cults Week, we're re-running this installment of Local Legends, in which Curbed LA, Eater LA, and Racked LA explored the properties, food, and fashion of the Source Family hippie cult of the late '60s and early '70s.
The Source Family cult created one of the most persistent popular visions of Los Angeles: they were health-food-eating hippies in caftans, meditating, practicing yoga, taking multiple sex partners, and putting out weirdo (but kind of awesome) psychedelic albums. Also of course they all took names like Electricity, Sunflower, and Lotus. The group was formed around 1970 by Jim Baker, a World War II hero from Cincinnati (where he'd had a bodybuilding gym) who took the name Father Yod (pronounced "yode") and who was known for his white suit and his white Rolls-Royce and eventually for his 14 wives. He made money and attracted adherents through his health food restaurants on Sunset Boulevard, and in 1972 the Source moved into the Mother House, their first communal home.
But it wasn't some cabin in the Hills or a ramshackle Craftsman in Venice—it was a Georgian-style Los Feliz mansion built in 1914 by one LA's first families, the Chandlers. The Source called this the Mother House and a 2007 LA Times article says it "was like a hippie Playboy mansion, where friends came to Sunday socials to listen to Father speak."
After just a year, "the Chandlers decided not to renew our lease," according to the 2007 book by Isis Aquarian, the Source's Family Historian and Keeper of the Records: "I imagine the sight of a hundred young people living in one house, all wearing white and following around a man who looked like Moses, might have made some neighbors nervous. We were kind to everyone and kept the house immaculate, but we were up at 3:30 a.m. every morning for meditation, played music, and liked to walk around nude, among other things. sometimes we would see men on the hill peering down at us with binoculars, and police helicopters occasionally hovered over the compound."
In March 1973 the Source found a new house in Nichols Canyon, closer to the Source restaurant on the Sunset Strip. According to Aquarian, it had been built by Catherine Deneuve (and was later owned by members of ABBA), and the family paid $1,000 a month, "just as we had at the Chandler Mansion." (She also says that Deneuve "kept two leopards in big cages in the backyard.") They called this the Father House and the move-in was a turning point: "This Father House period was a new time frame, a shift in the energy."
Maybe that's because there were 140 people living in just a three-bedroom house. The family built sleeping platforms outdoors on the hillside; they also "used the attic, and then took a few of the large rooms and hallways and ingeniously built what father called 'beehives' or 'cubbyholes.' These 'cubbies' were basically wooden bunks, built of 4' x 8' sheets of plywood, four feet above one another, from floor to ceiling. They were just big enough to crawl into and sit up, yet large enough for a mattress or futon, with a shelf at the head and a meditation mirror, candles, books, and a few personal belongings. A couple could slide out the divider between two cubbies and have a 'double suite.'" In 2002, guitarist/member Djin told Perfect Sound Forever that "we did everything up to code, we just didn't pull permits or ask permission."
Father Yod strung up a 13-star American flag outside "to honor the days when Freemasons gave birth to our great nation" and a member named Octavius built a band room and recording studio in the garage (many of the family's albums were released under the name YaHoWha 13 and most were recorded at the Father House). Members also "loved to hang out" around the pool.
The Source Family believed in natural birth and delivered 51 babies in their home—eventually one of the babies got a bad staph infection and a hospital trip ended up tipping the authorities to potential trouble up at the house. Father Yod moved the family to Hawaii starting around 1974; he died in a hang-gliding accident on August 25, 1975 (he'd had no hang-gliding experience).
Lastly we just have to tell you that actor Bud Cort, most famous for Harold and Maude, "briefly joined the family in the early years." And Cinefamily is currently showing a new documentary called The Source Family if you need more.
· The Source: LA's First Spiritual Vegetarian Restaurant [Eater LA]
· Looking Back at Stylish '70s Cult, LA's the Source Family [Racked LA]