The Temple of the People: A History

The Temple of the People was founded by Dr. William H. Dower and Mrs. Francia LaDue. Dr. Dower had become interested in Theosophy while a medical student in New York and had met William Quan Judge. In the early 1890′s in Syracuse he organized a branch of the Theosophical Society which included Francia LaDue. Dr. Dower was also active in causes relating to Native American rights for the Onondaga tribe in the area, and eventually both he and Mrs. LaDue were initiated into the Turtle Clan of the tribe. His advocacy of Native American rights was closely integrated with his Theosophical beliefs.

By 1898 Dr. Dower and Mrs. LaDue were asked by the Master to found the Temple in Syracuse, which they did. As we all know, there are lines of force which encircle the earth in all directions. These lines intersect and at these intersections are centers of power that have been used as places of healing and consecration throughout the ages. We are hearing again of these points here in America through the increasingly clear voices of the Native American peoples. The Master instructed Dr. Dower to continue his medical practice on the west coast. Mrs. LaDue made two trips to California investigating these healing centers. She was directed to a place just east of Oceano and the site was dedicated to the Temple work in 1903. Those of the original Temple group in Syracuse who could so arrange their affairs came to join Mrs. LaDue.

A large three-story Victorian home was purchased to become the Halcyon Hotel and Sanatorium. With the railroad depot just a convenient, short distance away in Oceano, people came from all corners of the world to be treated for many things including drug addiction, alcoholism, nervous disorders, and tuberculosis. The magnificent sweep of sand dunes and miles of beach close to the sanatorium were included in Dr. Dower’s treatments. Time spent in tune with the nature forces in the dunes and at the beach contributed to healing. Dr. Dower also had the first X-ray machine on the Central Coast and used the newest kinds of treatment that included color, sound and electricity. There was a separate facility for the TB patients with outdoor sleeping pavilions, gentle activities and good food. All patients were treated without regard to financial status, but there were pleas in the Temple magazine, the Artisan, for sponsors for patients. $10 a month was the cost of resident treatment!

In addition to the focus on the healing arts, there was an interest in establishing other opportunities for Temple members to earn a living. Although an intentional community, Halcyon was never a commune. Members have always supported themselves in family groups. Land was purchased by the Temple Home Association and leased to members. Some raised food crops, some went into poultry production, others tried commercially producing herbs and flower seeds, while still others worked in the Art Pottery Studio established in 1909. Pieces of this pottery are now prized possessions in several museums.

The parlors of the Sanatorium, as well as those in the home of Mrs. LaDue, about a mile to the east, were used for Temple study classes, services and ceremonies. A print shop was started to continue the publication of the monthly magazine, the Artisan, begun in 1900 in Syracuse. Pamphlets, study courses, and papers were sent through the mails to members world-wide. A general store and fourth-class post office were opened in 1908 just in front of the print shop and have been serving the community ever since. The store and post office were moved half a block in 1949 without interrupting service.

The community, which presently covers about 125 acres, grew as land was acquired. There were sage and lupine covered sand hills, as well as rich black bottom land which produced such outsized veggies that the valley farmers were not allowed to enter them in east coast shows. Unfair competition was the complaint. The Temple Home Association laid out a town plan, subdivided a portion of it, and sold or leased home sites. Temple members and friends built small cottages and planted small shrubs and trees that grew and grew over the years to transform our community into a woodsy place, protected by tall eucalyptus, Arizona cypress, and Monterey pine trees. The Monarch butterflies make our two eucalyptus groves a stop-over on their way to Monterey. The sage and lupine are largely gone, but Halcyon is a magical place in which to grow up. I treasure those long ago summers with sea-scented fog fingers touching my hair as I roamed barefooted through the soft, warm sand or sat in my favorite tree fort reading the latest Nancy Drew mystery. I know the nature elementals were probably reading over my shoulder as they surrounded me with love.

Francia LaDue, also known as Blue Star, was the first head of the Temple, serving as Guardian in Chief. In 1908 the Temple was incorporated in California as “The Guardian in Chief of the Temple of the People, a Corporation Sole.” Upon Francia LaDue’s death in 1922, Dr. Dower became the next Guardian in Chief and supervised the building of the Blue Star Memorial Temple. Like other sacred constructions, the Temple is built on lines of mathematical and geometrical symbolism. This unique structure surrounded by white pillars supporting the roof is triangular in shape, symbolizing the heart, the Unity of all Life, as well as the many trinities central to the spiritual core of all the great teachings throughout history. The windows are placed high to symbolize the Divine Light that comes from Above and are glazed with a special opalescent glass to diffuse the sunlight into a golden glow. The seven doors are symbolic of the key number of the Universe.

The Temple as a religious society is non-denominational, with members and friends coming from a wide variety of religious backgrounds. Daily at noon we hold a Healing Service, with prayers and meditations directed toward the health and safety of the world. Sunday morning services, open to all, include a monthly communion service, lectures, and a monthly meditation service. The content of these services comes from the Master and are universal in nature. Temple members who desire to pursue a course of study may do so. This study, service and continued dedication lead to the priesthood if the member so chooses. In the Temple the priests do not intercede, as our teachings clearly state that each person is his/her own priest in the connection to God or All That Is. Marriages, naming services, and funerals are some of the other celebrations held in the Temple. Creeds Disappear, Hearts Remain; Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; and Judge not lest ye be judged are three of the most basic tenets of the Temple.

When Dr. Dower passed away in 1937, Mrs. Pearl Dower became the third Guardian in Chief. Under her leadership the guest house, built in 1930 for guests and students, was gradually remodeled into the William Quan Judge Library. This building now also houses the Temple offices and a small apartment used for visitors. By 1949 the Sanatorium was sold and the Temple property was consolidated into the present-day pattern of about 95 acres with the Temple owning 30 of the 52 homes. In this mix of Temple members and friends and neighbors we have 116 residents, ranging in age from 1 year old to 88 years young. These represent many professions, many backgrounds, and many skills. Almost all earn a living outside of the community. All appreciate the caring community spirit. As a child growing up in Halcyon, I sometimes felt a little too supervised, but I came to know I was supervised with love and a lot of tolerance. I watch with a chuckle as the children of today explore the same precious places, construct new forts in old places, and invent new games that are copies of everything we did 50 years ago, that we in turn copied from the first children.

The original group of Temple members included John and Agnes Varian. John was a chiropractor practicing at the Sanatorium and Agnes the first Halcyon Store keeper and postmistress. John had first encountered Theosophy at home in Ireland and found Dr. Dower’s group in Syracuse when he emigrated to the U.S. He had a deep connection with Irish mythology and wrote wonderful poetry expressing these ageless mythological truths. He also pinned a special love poem to his wife’s pincushion every day. There was much laughter and a spirit of adventure in their household of three sons. The boys, Russell, Sigurd and Eric, were fascinated with electricity and its practical and impractical applications which included attaching electrical current to bed springs and door knobs to the shocked astonishment of visitors. After high school and college, Russell, the dreamer, and Sigurd, the expert in practical applications, did much of their research in Halcyon on the klystron tube that made radar possible. They later moved their operations to Palo Alto, and established the Varian Electronics Firm. Eric stayed in Halcyon, raised his family and worked throughout the Central Coast area as an electrical contractor.

Dr. Dower’s and Mrs. LaDue’s deep connection to the American Indian culture which treated the earth as sacred, as well as the Temple teachings which stress the importance of the contribution of Hiawatha and the League of the Six Nations to the history of our present-day government, are graphically portrayed in the collection of paintings in the Temple’s University Center. In the early 1930′s Dr. Dower asked artist and Temple member, Harold Forgostein, to paint a particular picture to be hung in Hiawatha Lodge, the newly-built social center in Halcyon. Harold, who was raised in Michigan, was then living in New York City. He found a rich source of inspiration in the collections of Native American artifacts in the museums and libraries there. He did the painting Dr. Dower requested and then began a series of large canvases in oils depicting events in the life of Hiawatha as well as the contributions of the Indians to our understanding of nature and the necessity of balance between humanity and the earth. The 22 paintings, each over 4 feet square, and the central 4 x 8 panel, are currently hung in the University Center. Several of them have been exhibited in Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo over the years.

Harold and his wife, Carolyn, moved to Halcyon in 1940, where Harold continued to paint, teach, paint, help Carolyn take care of Mrs. Dower, paint, dig ditches, paint, cut firewood, paint and paint and paint. He was a deep student of Theosophy and the Temple teachings and brought his considerable knowledge and skill to the job of Guardian in Chief when Mrs. Dower died in 1968. He continued to be a masterly teacher and an inspiration to all until his death in 1990.

Since its inception, the teachings of the Temple have been circulated around the world. A Temple group began in Germany in the late 1920′s, another formed in London in the 80s, and we have a growing number of members in West Africa. We make no push for members, simply answering all questions and leaving the choice of a spiritual path up to the individual and to the divine knower that dwells within each one.

As I look back over the accomplishments of the Temple in the 20th century, I see much foundational work: sacrifice, idealism, dedication, frustration, tolerance, learning, joy and love. Some people have come to Halcyon expecting a Utopia inhabited by saintly beings and have left, deeply disappointed. They found a group of ordinary human beings with ordinary strengths and weaknesses, united by a desire to live the Golden Rule, knowing that love can and does transcend all, eventually. It is a simple ideal and a difficult assignment, but one that we all work on, one that nourishes us as it challenges the very best within us.

– Eleanor L. Shumway
Guardian in Chief

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