Cults Week: Come Relive an Enlightening Week of Los Angeles Cult Activity


This week we went deep on the Los Angeles obsession with cults, cultists, cult-like groups, organizations we'd never refer to as cults for legal reasons, organizations that are definitely not cults but are kinda weird, and other related subjects. You don't have to go into a trance or commune with any ancients to relive it—here it is, in all its alien superbeing glory, Curbed LA's Cults Week:

An introduction:
· An Introduction to the Long History of Los Angeles Cults
· Ask the Experts: Why Does Los Angeles Attract So Many Cults?
· How to Start Your Own Los Angeles Cult in 14 Easy Steps

The buildings:
· 8 Notorious Los Angeles Cult Locations: Then and Now
· 7 of LA's Most Magnificent Examples of Masonic Architecture

The juicy stories:
· The Pasadena Haunts of the Occultist Who Cofounded JPL
· The Earliest and Weirdest LA Cult Stories: 1700s to 1940s

The Manson Family:
· The Story of the Abandoned Movie Ranch Where the Manson Family Launched Helter Skelter
· Mapping 13 Key Locations in the 1969 Manson Family Murders

The health-obsessed:
· How Cultists, Quacks, and Naturemenschen Made Los Angeles Obsessed With Healthy Living
· The Respectable LA Houses of 1970s Hippie Cult The Source
· Café Gratitude and the Cult of Commerce

On the Trolley: Everyone’s very excited about the (relatively)…

trolley.jpgEveryone's very excited about the (relatively) soon-to-open Expo Line extension, which will be the first train in decades that will go all the way to the beach in Santa Monica (or a few blocks short). But that's nothing compared to the early 1900s, when "Trolleys once rivaled the crashing surf in the soundscape of Southland beaches," and lines ran to Huntington Beach, Venice, and Manhattan Beach. Nathan Masters's look back at railways along the coast includes a lot of great photos of trolleys running along the waterfront and packed (trolley) cars of people clamoring for the sand. [Gizmodo]

Cornerspotter: Cornerspotted: Sixth and Alexandria in Koreatown

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[Image via Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection]

This week's photo caused quite a bit of debate in the comments—several people correctly guessed that this building was at Sixth Street and Alexandria in Koreatown, but many believed it to be the Chapman Market building, which it's not. It's the adjacent Chapman Park Studio, on the northwest corner of the intersection. (Only one commenter, identifying themselves as Lindsey Ratkovitch, correctly guessed which corner this was on.)

Taken from a parking lot that is now the site of the Zion Market shopping center, the 1974 picture shows off what was once one-third of Chapman Plaza, according to the LA Conservancy; the complex included the Studio, the drive-in Chapman Park Market (one of the first in the western US designed with the car in mind), and a hotel that has since been demolished. Designed by Morgan, Walls, & Clements, the trio of elaborately embellished structures were once the "fashionable anchors of the neighborhood." The Market building, restored by architect Brenda Levin and developer Wayne Ratkovich (as in the Ratkovich Company), now holds retail storefronts, while Chapman Park Studio is home to a firm called Chapman Park Studio, "a husband and wife team specializing in a variety of restorations, repairs, and bespoke installations."

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The Chapman Park Studio Building

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The Chapman Park Studio on the left, the Chapman Park Market on the right
· Hint: Where Was This Lovely Spanish Colonial Building in 1974? [Curbed LA]

Small Lots: More Central Hollywood Action With 10 Little Houses on Gordon

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[Images by Modative via Building LA]

A new development on Gordon Street near Fountain Avenue is going to give 10 households a very easy walk to the studios—built under the city's small lot subdivision ordinance (which allows multiple detached houses on a single lot), it'll have 10 three-story residences, each around 1,500 square feet, with three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a rooftop deck, and two parking spaces, says Building LA. (Will they be small enough to avoid the legal attentions of anti-density lawyer Robert Silverstein, who's been very busy slowing/stopping development in these parts?) There are two structures on the site right now (1238-1242 Gordon Street), including "a century-old bungalow" that will have to be demolished before the project, designed by local firm Modative, can begin to go up.

modative gordon street.jpg
· Small Lot Subdivision Proposed in Hollywood [BLA]
· Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance [Curbed LA]

Cults Week: How to Start Your Own Los Angeles Cult in 14 Easy Steps

This has been Cults Week at Curbed LA! We're going out with a handy how-to from comedian and writer Megan Koester. Thanks for joining us on our enlightening journey.
[The Fountain of the World cult in 1954 via UCLA Library]

Many consider Los Angeles the cult capital of the world, and with good reason. Most transplants, by and large, travel out west on a mission—some to pursue fame and fortune, others to achieve spiritual enlightenment, all to escape the creatively stifling existence that was their (invariably suburban) upbringing. The one common denominator they share is blind hope, in spite of overwhelming evidence that their dreams will die before they do.

Blind hope, combined with the ever-encroaching desperation of lost souls who possess it, is a powerful thing. Are you tired of being a barista? Is your spec script just not Big Bang Theory worthy yet? Want to be your own boss? Start your own cult! Monetizing the misery that surrounds you at every turn is a great way to build self-confidence and an enviable retirement fund.

Follow the tips on this easily scrollable list and you'll be on your way to possessing your very own congregation, not to mention the meaning of life. NOTE: These tips are merely suggestions, not gospel—after all, I'm not God. You are!

Recruit at the Right Places
Wide-eyed young adults with senses of self worth as minuscule as their waistlines are your target demographic—no one will be more devoted to your cause than someone who feels their parents don't "get" them. Take advantage of their trusting nature and you'll be smoking weed with your 14 wives (or husbands!!) in no time! Great places to find these lost souls include acting studios, the boutiques of Melrose Avenue, and vegan cafes.

Be All Things to All People
Tell interested parties that following you will make their dreams a reality, regardless of what said dreams may be. You needn't give them any evidence to back these claims up, either. It's not your job to give your followers anything, save everlasting life in the kingdom of Heaven you've (allegedly) created for them.

Communicate With a Higher Power
It's easy to write a book when you're not the one actually writing it. Become a conduit for the musings of saints—let their cosmic truths flow through your fingers and your manifesto will be completed in no time. Next step? Self-publication!

Call Yourself God
I know—you're not really God. You're just a drifter from Rancho Cucamonga. But they (and by "they," I mean your naïve followers) don't know that.

NOTE: The authorities, unfortunately, will not legally recognize your status as God, making you subject to the same rules and regulations as non-Gods. Sorry.

Separate Them From Their Friends and Family
Since this is LA, most of your flock will be comprised of struggling young actors. Just tell their worried parents they're shooting a reality show on a desert island—it's the perfect ruse for an extended disappearance! If they happen to perish under mysterious circumstances while under your supervision, say the terms of their NDA render you unable to answer questions about the untimely passing.

Spread Out
You need somewhere to stash your devotees, and the bigger, the better. Rent a huge place, ideally from an unaware/elderly owner, and ride it out until they kick you out. The Source Family lived in a Los Feliz mansion; the Manson crew spread out at Spahn Ranch. The more walls you have, the more space you have to hang tapestries.

Get a Robe
The perfect accessory for your beard? Definitely a robe. It feels great flapping in the Santa Ana winds, hides whatever physical imperfections you may have, and is timelessly stylish. Hey, if it worked for the Son of God, it'll work for you, God.

Practice Free Love
Making tantric love with multiple partners is a must for any cult leader. Make sure to mediate with your husbands/wives in-between these epic orgies, though. It's just as important to fill your spiritual tank as your reproductive tank!

Be Fruitful and Multiply
Procreation goes hand in hand with free love. After all, there's nothing more beautiful than a heavily pregnant woman engaging in hard labor (tilling the organic garden, hand washing robes, etc.) while her spiritual husband is being sexually serviced by a younger version of herself in the next room.

Commune With Nature
California is unique in that you can visit the beach in the morning, the desert in the afternoon, and the forest at night. Take advantage of all these locales—not only are they spiritually enlightening, they'll give you a wicked tan. Pretending to be one with Mother Gaia is a great way to distract the public from your horrific misdeeds, too.

Outsource Your Dirty Work
Speaking of misdeeds, do you have something morally corrupt, be it animal sacrifice or murder, you need taken care of? Get one of your devoted followers to do it for you—they're there to help! Just remember the acronym CMNKAJ: Charlie Manson Never Killed Anyone, Jack.

Become a Nonprofit Religious Organization
After all, the more money you save on taxes, the more Hollywood real estate you can buy! Registering as a nonprofit also ensures that you don't go to jail for tax evasion, a common problem that has plagued cult leaders since the dawn of mankind.

Hire a Good PR Firm
OK, so Jim Jones didn't have a PR guy—otherwise he probably would have been able to broker a sponsorship deal with Kool-Aid. That was the past, though; this is now. In the digital age, it's important to put your best face forward, lest you find yourself the subject of Jezebel articles decrying your distressing lack of female and trans Gods.

Get Litigious
Positive PR spin not working? Media still talking about your sex dungeon/"rehabilitation center"/missing spouses? Sue them into submission! It worked for that cult I can't call a cult because, were I to call it a cult, they'd financially destroy me! —Megan Koester
· Cults Week [Curbed LA]

Cults Week: The Earliest and Weirdest LA Cult Stories: 1700s to 1940s

It's Cults Week at Curbed LA! Join us.
[The leaders of the Blackburn cult via UCLA Library]

It'd be close to impossible to tell the story of every wacky cult or fringe religion that popped up in Los Angeles before World War II—weird spiritual beliefs have been wildly popular in the city since the 1920s and con men and the cunningly delusional took full advantage, starting cults based on healing, prosperity, sex, resurrection of the dead, alien contact, and extremely powerful rayguns. Here we've rounded up five of the earliest, most powerful, and most fascinatingly weird cults of those first days—starting as far back as the 1700s—who, in their strangeness, frankly put the later hippie cults to shame.

Chinigchinich Cult
The Chinigchinich cult seems like more of a religious sect than a true cult, but we're including it as a notable pre-Anglo example of cultish behavior in Southern California. The sect became popular with the native Tongva people sometime around the Mission era; it "duplicates so many Christian ethical and moral precepts" that it may post-date the first Christian missions of the late 1700s, according to The Natural World of the California Indians. Members were initiated via hallucinogenic Jimson weed and sandpainting; eagle sacrifice was also an important part of practice.

The Reformed New Testament Church of the Faith of Jesus Christ
The first English book believed to be published in Los Angeles was called The Reform of the New Testament Church and it was written, perfectly, by the city's first cult leader. William Money was a Scottish fellow who'd been told by Jesus to head West around 1840. Mike Davis's Ecology of Fear says he called himself an "astronomer and weather prophet"; Carey McWilliams's Southern California Country says local residents called him "Professor Money," "Doctor Money," and "Bishop Money." He said he had healed 4,996 sick people (four more patients died), but apparently had few followers; most were native Californians (that is, Mexicans) and he published a Spanish-language book on disease in 1858.

[Moneyan Institute ca. 1895 via USC Digital Library]

Money also founded LA's first commune, the Moneyan Institute in San Gabriel, "based on common property and total obedience to himself," as Davis puts it. The buildings at the institute were designed to resist earthquakes—most were octagonally-shaped adobe with pyramidal roofs; the main house was ovular and aligned north-south "to 'ride out' the earthquakes," according to the book San Gabriel.

Toward the end of his life, Money created a map called "William Money's Discovery of the Ocean," which showed "San Francisco, a community that he detested … poised on a portion of the earth that he predicted would soon collapse, precipitating the city into the fiery regions" (McWilliams). Davis adds that Money was perhaps also the first to see Los Angeles's potential for apocalypse: "When local newspapers refused to publish [the map], Money invoked a curse on Los Angeles, damning it to the same fate."

Divine Order of the Royal Arms of the Great Eleven
Sure, the men had their cute little aliens and earthquake predictions, but leave it to a couple of Downtown Los Angeles women to give us a truly mindblowing cult story. Taxi dancer and serial rich-man-grifter Ruth Wieland started the Divine Order of the Royal Arms of the Great Eleven with her mother May Otis Blackburn in the early 1920s, after the angels Gabriel and Michael appeared to tell them to sequester themselves from the world and compose a book called The Great Sixth Seal, "explaining the mysteries of life and health, heaven and earth," as described in a 1999 LA Times story. The angels promised to eventually reveal hidden gold and oil deposits to the women, and the women further claimed they knew the secret to resurrecting the dead. Clifford Dabney, the nephew of oil baron Joseph Dabney, thought it all sounded terrific and donated $40,000 in cash and property, including 164 acres near Moorpark.

With about 100 followers, the cult moved to the Harmony Hamlet retreat, "after driving their cars into the mountains and leaving them to rust as a sign of devotion," according to Kim Cooper, whose novel The Kept Girl is based on the group. Here they built a compound that included a sealed-off temple holding "a massive gilded wood throne weighing 800 pounds, sitting upon four hand-carved paws and adorned with a lion's head" (from the LAT). Members also worked in a tomato packing shed, but handed their paychecks over to Blackburn at the end of the day before watching the women ritualistically sacrifice mules. Afterward, they reportedly danced nude.

[Blackburn followers via UCLA Library]

But it was much darker than even animal sacrifice. Once Dabney realized he wasn't getting those secret mineral deposits, he went after Blackburn and Wieland legally, and in 1929 they were taken in on embezzling charges, according to an AP story from the time (republished on Historical Crime Detective). While investigating the case, police came across the body of 16-year-old Willa Rhoads in a specially-made copper and cedar casket, buried under the floorboards of her foster parents' house in Venice, next to another casket filled with the bodies of seven dogs (her pets in life). Rhoads, the daughter of two Blackburn followers, had died of apparently natural causes on January 1, 1925.

The cult leaders had declared her a High Priestess and her body was kept on ice "in the hope she would be resurrected," along with the dogs, who "represented the seven tones of Gabriel's trumpet." For a year, Rhoads's parents transported her around as they moved, before finally burying her under the floorboards in early 1926.

Meanwhile, police also uncovered four other mysterious deaths, including that of Frances Turner, who was apparently baked to death in a gruesome gesture at medical treatment. Wieland's husband also went missing at some point years earlier, and there was some evidence he may have been poisoned, but no body was ever found.

In 1930, Blackburn was found guilty of eight counts of grand theft and sentenced to one to 10 years in San Quentin, but she was released on appeal the next year. What was left of the Great Eleven "reportedly decamped for Lake Tahoe and was not heard from again."

McWilliams wrote that "the I AM cult is the weirdest mystical concoction that has ever issued from the region." Founded in 1932 by a Chicago couple named Guy W. Ballard and Edna Ballard (a professional medium), I AM was all about money and sex (which it forbade!). The Ballards earned $3 million selling books, phonograph records, I AM rings, "New Age Cold Cream," and "a special electrical device, equipped with colored lights, called 'Flame in Action'" (among many other things), and meetings involved "[b]uxom middle-aged usherettes, clad in flowing evening gowns … in a tabernacle that literally steamed with perfume." In 1938, the group provoked the Christian Century's terrific headline, "Another One in Los Angeles."

[Guy and Edna Ballard via Wikimedia]

Guy claimed to have been enlightened on a hiking trip on Mt. Shasta in Northern California, where Saint Germain appeared to offer him a cup of "pure electronic essence" and a wafer of "concentrated energy." Then they flew around the world together. (Guy said Saint Germain was an Ascended Master, a supernatural being who belonged to what the theosophists call the Great White Brotherhood; many Southern California cultists claim to have been tight with membership.)

The cult spread throughout the US before Guy died in 1939; in the early '40s, Edna and her son were convicted of mail fraud, but eventually cleared on appeal. They moved to Santa Fe to watch their following dwindle. I AM is still around today, though, with locations in Mt. Shasta and Illinois.

Mankind United
Mankind United was started in 1934 by a man named Arthur Bell and its gospel stated that, in 1875, a group of men had "establish[ed] contact with a superhuman race of little men with metallic heads who dwell in the center of the earth," and that the little men (The Sponsors) told the human men that they wanted to help "eradicate war and poverty from the earth," according to McWilliams. Bell (The Voice) promised followers that if they and 199,999,999 other people surrendered all their worldly possessions to join him, they could all be freed from their middle-class oppression and given middle-class freedom:

Once 200,000,000 people have joined the organization, Mankind United will be in a position to insure that no mortal will have to work more than 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, 8 months a year, to earn a salary of not less than $3,000 a year. Pensions of $250 a month will be paid all who have worked 11,000 hours or have reached the age of sixty. Bell promised each of his followers a $25,000 home, equipped with radio, television, unlimited motion pictures, and an "automatic vocal-type correspondence machine." The homes were also to be equipped with automatic news and telephone recording equipment; automatic air-conditioning; with fruit trees, vegetable gardens, hot houses, athletic courts, swimming pools, fountains, shrubbery, and miniature waterfalls.

[Book cover via]

More than 14,000 Californians thought that sounded pretty sweet and joined up with the cult between 1934 and 1941; meanwhile, leaders made gobs of money through affiliated organizations with names like the International Legion of Vigilantes.

Sometime after 1940, Bell started saying he had a ray machine strong enough to "knock out the eyesockets" of people thousands of miles away, and that it could be used to create power plants "capable of exterminating 1,000,000 people at a single blast." He also told a California legislative committee that he could go into a trance and wake up wherever he wanted.

Many of the anti-war leaders of Mankind United were brought down by sedition convictions in the early 1940s, but Bell went on to create the Church of the Golden Rule, according to the book Mystics and Messiahs; that group also required followers to give up all their possessions and Bell ended up with $3.4 million in assets, including six hotels, five restaurants, Santa Monica's Sorrento Beach Club, and a cheese factory.
· Cults Week [Curbed LA]

Young Guns 2014: Reminder: Young Guns Nominations Close in Exactly One Week


Here's your official reminder that nominations are open for Curbed Young Guns 2014, our search for the next wave of architects and interior designers. Nominees must be under the age of 35 and they must be based in the United States, but other than that, we're hoping to represent as many locales and specialties as possible. Got someone to nominate for #cyg14? Deadline is Oct. 31, so go go go.
· Curbed Young Guns Official Nominee Form [Curbed National]
· All Young Guns 2014 posts [Curbed National]

Getting Around: Why Los Angeles Uber Drivers Say It Sucks to Be Them

[Image via Getty Images]
Uber drives organized their first protest this week in Los Angeles over what sound like some pretty raw working conditions. A new union of Uber drivers (California App-Based Drivers Association) has just joined a Teamsters chapter and is speaking out against new fare reductions (which now make Uber cheaper than LA's buses), a huge increase in the commissions taken out by Uber, a "misleading tipping policy," and the company's rating system, which gives all the weight to reviews from riders, regardless of how horrible they may be, reports Neon Tommy. Here's a list of working conditions the Uber drivers want to change:

8 Secrets You Learn Being an Uber Driver in Los Angeles

· "Uber used to take only a 5 percent commission from drivers' total fares. That number has now risen to 25 percent," says Joseph De Wolf, an Uber Black driver who is also also cofounder and executive committee member of the new union. (Uber also takes a dollar off the top of every ride as a "safe ride fee.")
· That is pretty nuts on its own, but it's also been coupled with a hefty fare cut. According to DeWolf, in December 2013, UberX (the least expensive Uber service) charged $2.40 a mile, with a base rate of $4; now the rate's just $1.10 a mile, with a base rate of eight cents.
· That's especially painful considering that, as independent contractors, drivers have to pay for their own gas and car-related expenses. Eighty cents of gas is not going to get anyone anywhere.
· The company's rating system, which has riders rate drivers, uses one- to five-star grading. Drivers whose average dips below 4.7 stars get a warning email and are deactivated until they take a class about improving their rating; if their rating goes below a 4.4 after the class, they're permanently deactivated, which amounts to being fired.
· This is probably a well-intentioned attempt to hold drivers to high standards, but the effect is often that drivers who are asked to do potentially unsafe things (like, say, fit eight people into a car) are worried that if they don't do what their fare wants, it could result in them being fired.
· Drivers also take serious issue with the impression that Uber gives users about tipping. As one Uber driver put it, the company "brainwashes the public, saying the tip is included. It's never been included."

Uber, for its part, says it's reducing fares for a really good reason. "We just want to be the biggest company in the world, whatever we need to do to find more clients," a general manager with Uber West Coast tells NT.
· L.A. Uber Drivers Protest Low Wages, Lack of Rights [NT]
· 8 Secrets You Learn Being an Uber Driver in Los Angeles [Curbed LA]

Celebrity Real Estate: Queen Latifah Selling House at the Foot of the Hills for $2MM

Grammy-award-winning singer, producer, actress, and talk show host Queen Latifah has listed her wonderfully-landscaped-but-otherwise-pretty-unexceptional home at the foot of the Hollywood Hills near Nichols Canyon. The one-story 1922 residence includes French doors, a glass-tile fireplace, hardwood floors, and high and vaulted ceilings, says the LA Times. The three-bedroom house also has guest quarters with a private entrance and an outdoor spa. The property is gated and surrounded by "tropical" landscaping, boosting its privacy factor. Queen Latifah (real name: Dana Owens) bought the 2,026-square-foot house back in 2010 for $1.34 million; she's listed it now for $1.939 million.

· Queen Latifah lists house in Hollywood Hills West [LAT]
· 1724 North Orange Grove Avenue [Redfin]

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