By Billy Goodrum
One unique characteristic of Baba’s Avataric Advent in relation to previous advents is that, due to advances in technology which we must assume He preordained, He was able to travel to His lovers the world over. Not just internally, but physically by gross plane means. Although we make our pilgrimage to Meherabad much in the same way that Christians visit the Holy Land or Muslims Mecca, we can also make more casual visits to places He visited in the west. From Albuquerque to St. Mark’s Square, from Chapel Hill to Nanjing, He traveled so that as many people as possible could come into His immediate contact. It would seem that He was “laying the cable” for our present globalization.
I have always had a keen interest in the places Baba visited. You’ve probably figured that out since my last article was about Baba in Cannes and this one is about His visits to Los Angeles. My interest in Baba places developed when I moved to Los Angeles in the mid-90s. I was surprised to learn how much time Baba had spent in Hollywood: seven days in 1932 the first time He visited, twenty-one days from December 1934 to January 1935; and three days in 1956 for a total of thirty-one days. All in all, Baba spent a month in Los Angeles.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I lived in a house owned by the Vedanta Society three doors up from their Temple that housed some of Ramakrishna’s remains. This was strictly coincidence. I knew next to nothing about the Vedanta Society at that point. I had moved in to share the house with an old friend from North Carolina that already lived there. Our next door neighbors were 20 or so Vedanta Society Nuns. One day, in a casual conversation on the sidewalk with one of the older nuns, I learned that she had met Meher Baba in New York in the 1950s. Of course I wanted to know all about it, but she kept it brief and just said Baba wasn’t for her. Apparently the room where she met Baba was very hot and “the rough looking characters” (I’m assuming the men Mandali) around Him made her uneasy.
Later I moved half a mile away to Beachwood Canyon. My apartment there was a 5-minute walk to the house on Gower Street where Baba stayed on His first visit to Los Angeles. It is a smallish Mediterranean-style house. I used to walk over and stand on the street outside the house and look at it and imagine Baba going in and out the front door, waving from the window, or being picked up in an awesome 1930s car.
Late one afternoon as I was standing there on the street looking at the house, I suddenly realized there was someone standing on the balcony looking back at me. Startled out of my reverie, my first impulse was to make a hasty retreat, but, thinking that would be poor form, I stood firm and mustered up an “oh, hi.” She said hello back in a way that made me realize she wasn’t that surprised to see a stranger staring at her house. So I asked her if she knew that a great spiritual master had stayed there some 60 years ago. She replied that she did, having learned it from her landlord and the occasional person she encountered on the sidewalk staring at the house. Then she told me that the singer Linda Ronstadt had lived there early in her career and that fans of the singer also came to look at the house. I thanked her and turned to walk home, thinking how lucky she was to live where Baba had spent seven days.
I live in Asheville now but still work mostly out of Los Angeles so I’m there frequently. On my last visit I rented an apartment in the Hollywood Hills very near the house at 1840 Camino Palmero where Baba stayed for twenty-one days in 1934–35. In the mid-90s, when I was on the Board of the LA Baba Center we were contacted by the owners of the house to see if we wanted to buy it before they put it on the market. They were aware of its significance to Baba Lovers, interestingly enough, from people they had encountered on the sidewalk gazing dreamily at the house. They were kind enough to invite the entire Board to take a tour of the house, which was spectacular. It was a real treat to be inside the house where Baba had spent three weeks working on His film project. Alas, the two million dollar asking price was too much to even consider, but at least a group of us got to go inside.
Also on that same recent visit, I decided to take a little “Baba walking tour.” So I headed down to Hollywood Boulevard and set out heading west. First up was the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, where Baba stayed three nights in 1956. Across the street is Grumman’s Chinese Theater where Baba went to see “Grand Hotel” starring Greta Garbo in 1932. I understand it’s one of the few times Baba and the Mandali stayed for the entire film. A few more blocks west on Ivar Street is the former Knickerbocker Hotel where Baba had a reception for 500 people in 1932. Continuing on Hollywood Boulevard past Vine Street is the Pantages Theater where Baba saw the film “Imitation of Life” that same year. I love the feeling I get when I walk among the places Baba visited, even if it is along a route riddled with cheesy souvenir shops and other tourist traps.
Baba also visited the private homes of Mercedes de Acosta, Tallulah Bankhead, and Marie Dressler, among others. Unfortunately Pickfair, the home of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford where a reception for Baba was held in 1932, was demolished in 1990. Actress Pia Zadora, who had purchased the house, claimed it was because it was haunted and there were supernatural occurrences she couldn’t deal with. Baba also visited most of the major film studios: Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal, MGM, and Fox.
In the 1940s, the screenwriter Alexander Markey and Jean Adriel established a 500-acre Center for Baba’s work on the outskirts of Los Angeles in La Crescenta, but I haven’t been able to determine its exact location. Baba later asked them to sell it and use the money to find and buy a new place an hour or two from the city, which is the backstory of how Meher Mount in Ojai came to be.
If anyone has any interest in the places Baba visited in Los Angeles, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can send a list of what I have.
Published March 2016.