At first we thought we were lost. With Highland Park behind us, we slowly made our way up a series of narrow, twisting roads. We had only been in the car for 15 minutes, but the scenery felt as though we had left the city altogether. When we finally reached the entry gates, we were shocked by the sight of the gardens at the Self-Realization Fellowship in Mt. Washington.
Through the hazy sky, we could see the downtown skyline over what appeared to be a repurposed tennis court. Down the road we could see the what used to be the Mount Washington Hotel peeking through the trees.
In 1908, developer Robert Marsh and his partner Arthur St. Claire Perry purchased 565 acres of property on Mt. Washington. With a plan to subdivide the property into lots for housing development, Marsh & Co. built a short incline railway that started at Avenue 43 and Marmion way, extending 940 feet up the mountain.
Opening in 1910 at a cost of $40,000, the three story Mission Style hotel had 18 rooms, each with a private bath. Set upon a 14-acre spread, the structure had a roof garden, large balconies and porches, a dining room, a library, a Japanese garden and tennis courts out front. Although naturally popular with the wealthy and movie execs (these were Pre-Hollywood days), the Mt. Washington Hotel served mainly as an advertisement for Marsh & Co. Marsh had hoped that when people visited Mt. Washington, they would feel inclined to buy his two to three acre lots and build new homes. As a second measure, Marsh & Co. took an out an ad every Sunday in the Los Angeles Times, promoting the land under a faux newspaper called “The Mount Washington Eagle,” which promised pure water, well-to-do neighbors, and increasing land values with incredible sunset views.
As time passed and the film studios moved from Sycamore Grove Park to Hollywood, business at the hotel dwindled. Due to necessity of repairs and a battle of ownership between Marsh & Co. and the City of LA, the railway shut down in 1919. Although the neighborhood had begun to develop and the city purchased and connected the private roadways, the hotel shuttered its doors in 1921. By 1922, the hotel had become home to the Mt. Washington Military School. The school ran a short course, and in 1925 the hotel was sold to the founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship, Parmahansa Yogananda.
Still serving as the international headquarters for the SRF, the grounds are open to the public. While visiting, we encountered a few people in meditation and practicing yoga throughout the paths, with nothing but the faint noise of birds and running water in the background. Spiritual or not, it is one of our new favorite retreats from the chaos of everyday life.
3880 San Rafael Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90056
Tue – Sat: 9AM – 5PM
Sunday: 1PM – 5PM