Motion Picture Studio
The colorful history of the Lake Shrine began almost a century ago. In the early 1920s, the then-famous Inceville Motion Picture studio filmed silent movies on this site in Santa Ynez Canyon. Los Angeles real-estate magnate Alphonzo Bell Sr. later purchased the land, and in 1927 the surrounding hillsides were hydraulically graded to fill the canyon and make it level for future development. However, these earthmoving activities were halted prematurely, leaving a large basin that quickly filled with water from the many springs in the area, creating lake Santa Ynez.
The area and surrounding hills remained undeveloped until H. Everett McElroy, assistant superintendent of construction for 20th Century Fox studios, purchased the property in 1940. Mr. McElroy, a man of creative vision, dreamed of terraced gardens surrounding the lake with rustic bridges and waterfalls creating a private coastal paradise. McElroy and his wife began work to manifest the vision, importing a double-deck houseboat from Lake Meade, building a quaint mill house with water-wheel, and erecting an authentic model Dutch windmill.
How the McElroys’ ten-acre park became the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine is a remarkable story. In the late 1940’s Mr. and Mrs. McElroy sold the property to an oil-company president, who moved into the windmill and planned to construct a multi-million dollar resort hotel complex around the lake. Before he could proceed, however, the new owner of the property had a strange experience.
One night he had a vivid dream in which his new property was a “Church of All Religions.” The dream featured ministers delivering inspiring sermons to a large audience assembled by the lake. He awoke and wondered on the meaning of this dream, and then fell back asleep. But the same dream continued and with profound emotional impact. He awoke again, deeply moved, and, rising from his bed, looked up “Church of All Religions” in the telephone book. The only such listing was for the Self-Realization Fellowship Church of All Religions in Hollywood. Motivated by the unusual synchronicities, he composed a letter to be mailed the next morning, offering to sell his property, before going back to bed.
Later the next day, the man telephoned Self-Realization Fellowship headquarters, and the call was given to Paramahansa Yogananda who began speaking before the man could introduce himself or explain his purpose—“You have some property for sale, don’t you? When can I see it?”
“But you haven’t received my letter,” the man replied.
“The letter will come tomorrow morning,” the Guru told him. “Can we meet tomorrow afternoon?”
Paramahansaji visited the lake and its grounds the next day, and immediately began making plans to create the open-air shrine of all religions he wished to establish in Los Angeles. Shortly thereafter, with the help of several generous benefactors, he acquired the property, and from his “temporary headquarters” on the Mississippi houseboat, Yogananda personally directed disciples throughout months of construction and extensive landscaping. During this period he spent many hours in deep prayer and divine communion at the lake, invoking God’s blessings on all who would come to visit from around the world.
Thus Lake Shrine was born from the creative imagination of one property owner, a dream of the next, before finally being delivered into the hands of a God-ordained guru who created the spiritual oasis we enjoy today.
Lake Shrine Dedication
Lake Shrine formally opened to the public on August 20, 1950, coinciding with the thirtieth anniversary of Paramahansa Yogananda’s work in America. Lieutenant Governor of California and Mrs. Goodwin J. Knight assisted Yogananda in the dedication, which 1,500 people attended.
Paramahansa Yogananda designed the Golden Lotus Archway as a “wall-less temple.” In India the lotus flower is a symbol of divine unfoldment – the awakening of the soul to its infinite potential.
Gandhi World Peace Memorial
As part of the ceremonies, Yogananda dedicated the Gandhi World Peace Memorial — the first monument in the world to be erected in honor of Mahatma Gandhi, architect of India’s freedom through nonviolent means and the greatest apostle of peace in this century.
“Alone among great leaders, Gandhi has offered a practical nonviolent alternative to armed might,” Yogananda said. “The nonviolent voice of Gandhi appeals to man’s highest conscience. Let nations ally themselves no longer with death, but with life; not with destruction, but with construction; not with hate, but with the creative miracles of love.”
During the dedication, a portion of Gandhi’s ashes, encased in a brass and silver coffer, was enshrined in a thousand-year-old stone sarcophagus from China. Dr. V. M. Nawle, a publisher and journalist from Poona, India, who knew of the deep bond between the two great men, sent the ashes to Yogananda. Following the dedication of the memorial, Dr. Nawle wrote:
“Regarding Gandhi ashes, I may say that [they] are scattered and thrown in almost all important rivers and seas, and nothing is given outside India except the remains which I have sent to you after a great ordeal.”