Explore Pacific Palisades’ Self-Realization Fellowship Grounds

By Michael Edlen
Special to the Palisades News

(This is part of a series that features local places of historic interest, drawing largely on the now-classic book by Betty Lou and Randy Young, Pacific Palisades—Where the Mountains Meet the Sea.)

Hundreds of people drive past the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine every day without any idea of the treasure hidden away on a 10-acre site at 17190 Sunset Boulevard, just up from Pacific Coast Highway. It’s easy to access and rarely crowded, yet most people have never taken the time to explore its tranquil setting. No admission is charged and parking is free. For hours, visit lakeshrine.org or call (310) 454-4114.

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The SRF’s main feature is a small, nearly round, spring-fed lake which is framed by natural hillsides. The lush landscaping includes fountains, waterfalls, colorful flower beds, lily ponds, and a sunken grotto filled with ferns. Little kids love feeding the two resident white swans, ducks, turtles and koi fish with packaged food provided at the visitors’ center.

The lake is lined with a shaded walking path, with short stairways leading to small alcoves, and quiet sitting areas for enjoying the views or meditation. Key structural features include an old Dutch windmill that once was home to an earlier owner and is now used as a chapel for Sunday services. There is also an East Indian gift shop next to a small museum room that displays some art, gems and some of the history of the Lake Shrine’s founder, Yogi Paramahansa Yogananda.

The most prominent feature is the large Golden Lotus Archway, which can be seen from almost every spot on the grounds. It frames the Gandhi World Peace Memorial, which is an outdoor shrine where an authentic 1,000-year-old Chinese stone sarcophagus contains some of Gandhi’s ashes.

The archway and other structural members are in process of being repaired and reinforced, with the expectation of being completed by the end of this summer. Most areas are still accessible during this time, including the lake path, meditation areas and the gift shop.

Those who are familiar with the beautifully landscaped grounds and serene areas around the lake may not be aware that the SRF also has a retreat center which is open for guests five nights a week.

Guests come together for vegetarian meals in the dining room and have free time to relax and enjoy the serene settings. The retreat program is loosely structured, with classes and inspirational sessions. Silence is maintained to deepen the participants’ retreat experience. The suggested donation is $85-100 per day per person, which includes lodging and food.

Even fewer people know of the rich history of the SRF property which was the site of part of an old movie studio 100 years ago. The Inceville movie lot occupied most of the land from what is now PCH up to the hill near where Marquez Elementary School is now located.

The lake itself was created in 1927 when Alphonzo Bell reshaped the lower Santa Ynez Canyon to prepare it for a future housing development.

The property was given to the Fellowship in 1949, and Yogananda personally supervised the construction of the Lake Shrine. He was the founder of the Self-Realization movement, with teachings based on Indian and Hindu doctrines. During the development period, he lived on a houseboat that had been built in nearby hills and moved to the lake, where it may still be seen.

Michael Edlen has been a Pacific Palisades resident for 40 years and the leading real estate agent for most of the last 20 years. Call (310) 230-7373 or email Michael@MichaelEdlen.com.

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