Thursday, May 13, 2010

The visionary utopian colony Krotona was founded by the Theosophical Society in Beachwood Canyon in 1919. It’s purpose was to ” build a community without discrimination; study religion, philosophy and science; explore the inexplicable.” The colony, along with an eccentric cast of characters, thrived in the Hollywood Hills from 1919-1924. Krotona seized the day in the undeveloped idyllic Hollywood Hills, and became a Disneyfied re-visioning of a Moorish oasis, a center where the curious and committed could live in peaceful and contemplative study of eastern and western esoteric traditions. Krotona crumbled under the growing urbanization of Los Angeles, and as more like-minded seekers flooded the area, the reality of urban sprawl overtaking Los Angeles shattered its Utopian myth of tranquility and abundant sequestration. It moved north to the more pastoral town of Ojai, where it has stayed since.

First Stop: Maja's Magic School at The Annie Besant Lodge

The Annie Besant Lodge at the Theosophical Society 
2560 N. Beachwood Drive

Maja D'oust, Librarian at the Philosophical Research Society, holds cozy cabals on Eastern and Western mysticism monthly in the Annie Besant lodge. Her illuminating lectures will appeal to those who drool at the word 'alchemy,' with a penchant for rogue gurus and eccentric hoi polloi culled from the annals of esoterica. If that includes you, I'll gladly see you there.
The lodge is named after Annie Besant- feminist, Theosophist, socialist reformer- who was slightly off her rocker, but nevertheless managed to impart a great deal of legitimate knowledge on Eastern mysticism to the West before practices like yoga and meditation were so commonplace. You can visit her and her kinfolk at

Next Stop: The Grand Temple of the Rosy Cross and the Krotona Inn

The Grand Temple of the Rosy Cross and the Krotona Inn
Now lovingly called The Krotona Apartments (vacancy!)
2130 Vista Del Mar

The Krotona Inn was built in the fall of 1912 by architects Mead and Requa to serve as a physical home and spiritual locus for the  many students of Theosophy flocking to the canyon. It was THE hub of the community, but in true Los Angeles fashion it has been subdivided into apartment complexes and leased out for exorbitant amounts of money.

So there I was with an illegally parked VW and camera in hand, trying to clandestinely finesse my way into the courtyard of the former Krotona Inn, when a jogging stranger emerged from the building and ran towards me with wild eyes and wild abandon.
Knowing this was going to end poorly one way or another, I finagled my best alibi and rehearsed it in my head as the jogger flailed closer. My tried and true method for dodging a desultory 'breaking and entering' rap is to first smile and wave. Then it is best to launch into a diatribe about how your grandfather was a Masonic Priest (or pick a profession related to said location you are trespassing on), who used to live in the Krotona colony in the 1920's. Considering my lie was half true, I figured I was in good enough shape. Then wax on for a spell about how he recently passed, you miss him dearly, are making a scrap book for the family, and add a few breathless emotional flourishes to seal the deal. This will serve you well in 88% of conundrums encountered on urban 'explorations'. You can thank me for this one later.
Anyhow, the jogger approached and the first words out of his mouth were "Whattareya doin' with that camera?" Before I could recite my little diatribe, he blurted "You must be here to rent the apartment."

"Why yes, yes I am," I calmly responded. It's best to answer 'yes' in these situations, especially if said 'yes' can culminate in a tour of the residence you are trying to break into.

"I thought so!" he replied, "you're going to love it here, I can tell already! The only caveat is that the apartment is in a converted temple and is a little unorthodox." Score!

Absolutely punch drunk off the possibility of gaining entrance to the Grand Temple of the Rosy Cross and the Esoteric Room where members would meet for meditation left me totally giddy. I was simply beside myself with good fortune.

The jogger led me up a series of bouganvilla-ensnared steps that led back in time to bohemian Los Angeles of the 1910's. Stone lions with mossy patinas, crumbling white bungalows adorned with prayer flags and folk art, brazenly beautiful grey haired ladies doing yoga in billowy white garments, an eccentric old film director casting screaming women for his new B movie, ladies painting landscapes together on a deck whose views stretched from the Hollywood sign all the way to downtown LA...I kid you not, these were the vignettes I saw as my host took me up the walkway to my possible new 'home.' These structures were originally built as dining halls, vegetarian kitchens, libraries, meditation rooms, and have now been awkwardly (and beautifully) finessed into private residences. There was a palpable energy, and this place is a verifiable halcyon hamlet where peace and paradise still abound.

We reached the top of the Inn, and there, shrouded behind a gaggle of Krotona cats, was the Esoteric Room, its dome rounding out the sweeping vistas of Jacaranda, Carob and Magnolia trees in bloom throughout the canyon. Hubba hubba!

The jogger, who is possibly the kindest man I have ever met, is thrilled that I am looking at his apartment because I am exactly what they had imagined in a new tenant (!). He and I swap banter about the golden days  of the compound, and he is thrilled to find a kindred spirit to swoon with over onion domes, keyhole windows, Rosicrucian carvings and mystical vibrations. Many of the sacred spaces of the colony point east in honor of Krishnamurti, an Indian mystic brought to the US by Anne Besant whom the Theosophists believed was the incarnation of the great soul Alcyone and a vehicle for his profound teachings.

He shows me the main house on the property, which I believe was originally used as a vegetarian dining hall and residence for Annie Sullivan Knudsen, wealthy heiress to a Hawaiian sugar cane fortune. Beneathe the home is a mediation garden with the requisite lotus pond. It is, simply stated, breathtaking. My pictures do it no justice.

By this time my reason is all asunder, and I am beginning to believe that I'm destined to live in this ramshackle ghost colony. The jogger sure as hell thinks so, which doesn't help my sanity. I've drunk the proverbial Kool Aid, and in my head I am taking stock of whose truck I am going to borrow to move my stuff, what tree my hammock will be hung on, and where I will enjoy my morning cantaloupe and oolong tea. Then the final nail goes in the coffin as he leads me to my new front door:
Alas, it is the entrace to the Grand Temple of the Rosy Cross, embellished with a Rosicrucian seal and glowing in the sunkissed Los Angeles light. We walk inside through a musty corridor, and I open the door to my new home. The studio has the original floors from the temple, with parts of the pews still intact (swoon!). There is a tiny loft in a spire that serves as a bed nook, and rusty french windows that open to sweeping views of Beachwood canyon and the Esoteric Room. Its impossibly tiny (someone get me the number for public storage), has no full kitchen (I cook all my own food), doesn't allow dogs (sorry, Ninotchka!), and is $1330 per month (time to find a night job). Nonetheless, I am sold!

Perhaps I have been sold, like Krotona's earliest colonists, by the promise of "the modern Athens," where buyers would "suffer neither fog nor dust nor frost." Despite the sheer impossibility of relocation, I'm caught up in the rapture of living in my utopian hamlet, with ever-shining sun and healthful living in these lush, citrus-laden 'Mediterranean' hills. Drunk on the California dream, I tell the jogger I'll take it, we hug (?!?), and he proceeds to take this picture of me in front of my new home.

 Who wouldn't want to live here?*
*Note: I totally bailed on the dude once I was out of the jasmine-scented grip of the halcyon Krotona hallucination

En Route: The Spirit of Krotona Abounds!

Residential Address
Temple Hill Drive

Chugging through the canyon in my VW, I happened upon this little Moorish gem on my way up Temple Hill Drive. A ghost of old Krotona perchance, or an architect's play on the nearby Moorcrest estate? I will have to do my research and report back.

Next Stop: The Ternary Building

The Ternary Building
6205 Temple Hill Drive

The home of Grace Shaw Duff, Henry Hotchener and Marie Russack, prominent Theosophists. Complete with Italianate gardens, Moorish meditation areas and a lotus pool (why stop at one style when you can have them all?),  the Ternary teemed with mystical activity. A stadium was erected in the gardens in 1918 and used to stage a dramatization of Sir Edwin Arnold's "The Light of Asia."

Apartments, naturally!

A Stopover at Krotona's Demolished Administration Building

Science + Administration Building
2152 Vista Del Mar

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Last Stop: Moorcrest

6147 Temple Hill Drive

Perhaps it was the landscapers leering at me from beneathe a wily weedwacker, but I was reticent to climb/peer over Moorcrest's sizable retaining wall to get my money shot. Luckily, those before me have done their dirty work so that you can behold Moorcrest in all it's garish splendor. Thank you to Under The Hollywood Sign for our dashing photos of Moorcrest and its inhabitants:
Moorcrest's pedigree- beyond it's role in the Krotona colony - includes housing such luminaries of the Silent Film era as Mary Astor and Charlie Chaplin.