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A Correction, followed by a Brief Musing on Queen Anne Hill, the Love Family and the Brevity of Youth

Spititual Smart Aleck
In the photo that accompanies the Wikipedia article about the Love Family, members of the Love Family perform at the 65th Anniversary Celebration of Pike Place Market, 1972. From left to right, Strength Israel, Zeal Israel, Courage Israel, Reality Israel, Integrity Israel, and Encouragement Israel. Photo from Seattle Municipal Archives

First, an apology & correction: In a classic slip of the mind in my last essay, I said that my friend Becky grew up in the Madrona neighborhood of Seattle. This prompted a LARGE FONT email from her saying that she grew up in MAGNOLIA, not Madrona, and she was proud of her neighborhood.

I am sorry. I meant Magnolia. I don’t know why my brain picked another neighborhood that started with "M" instead of Magnolia, but let us be clear, Becky grew up in Magnolia and nowhere else. And she went to high school at Queen Anne High.

Which may be why I got to thinking about Queen Anne. The south hillside of Queen Anne Hill has incredible views of Seattle and beyond, all the way to Mt. Rainier, with the Space Needle in the foreground. For years I thought that Queen Anne was merely an apartment-infested place where people who work downtown made their homes.

Then one day when my older son was in his teens I took him to visit a friend who was staying in the home of his divorced father, and that home was located on top of Queen Anne Hill. We chugged up the brutal incline which is laughingly called "Queen Anne Avenue North," implying that it is a street designed to be used by motor vehicles. At the time of this story I had a VW van, so making it to the top of the hill was not a sure thing. That van had a certain hippie charm, but it did not have horsepower. Still, the miracle happened and we made it.

Once up on top, I was astounded to find myself in this apparently autonomous little town. Stores, people, schools, churches. Once you get up that hill, you might never have to leave, which is not a bad idea considering what it takes to get up there.

The divorced father told me that his house had formerly belonged to the Love Family. Remember the Love Family? The Love Family, or Church of Jesus Christ at Armageddon, was a group (some say cult) of people who formed around a charismatic leader named Paul Erdman who called himself Love Israel. When you joined you gave the family all your worldly goods to be shared in common, and you were given a new first name based on some characteristic of your nature.

The family prospered, supporting itself through work (chiefly construction and landscaping) as well as the donations of new members. The group bought many houses on Queen Anne to form a family compound – this was starting in 1968, and houses in Seattle were cheap then.

The Love Family eventually broke up with many hurt feelings, lawsuits, and allegations of financial corruption and drug use. This is a common outcome for religious groups that form around one charismatic leader. Where great wealth is accumulated, there will be people attracted to the control and use of great wealth.

The properties on Queen Anne were sold, and a ranch up in Arlington went into foreclosure in 1994. The Love Family still exists, as a small group living in the Bothell area. They made mistakes, they did some good. It’s a human story.

Queen Anne is still that autonomous neighborhood, a small town on top of the hill where you can forget that Seattle is so nearby. The Love Family was a little blip in Seattle’s history, now almost gone.

A little blip in my history, too, from that time when we all had long hair and wanted to be natural and get back to the country and had enough energy to cut firewood all winter long. Ah, youth. I miss the energy, and the naïve optimism. I don’t miss the VW van. It took me to the poorhouse faster than it took me any place else.