Chapter closes with clan's move

The Seattle Times/April 9, 2004

I am sad. Once again we have lost a landmark, a cultural icon, a slice of our regional soul.

It's like when they shut the Doghouse. Or tore down the Twin Tepees. Or turned out the lights at Chubby & Tubby.

Love Israel moved away this week.

OK, maybe it's more like losing an eccentric uncle. It's still kind of sad, isn't it?

After 36 years, the former TV salesman who changed his name to Love Is Real and twice built religious communes in the Puget Sound area is off to Eastern Washington.

Forced by bankruptcy to sell their 300-acre ranch in Snohomish County, the Israel family is now setting up tents on 52 acres north of Spokane.

For Seattle it's the apparent end to a rocky but intriguing relationship that began in 1968, when Love moved to town saying he'd had a vision that "we're all one."

"Love is the answer. Now is the time," he'd say. "Don't you believe it?"

By the early 1980s as many as 200 people did believe, surrendering their careers, money and identities to live together as the Church of the Armageddon on Queen Anne Hill.

"Who on Queen Anne in the last decade didn't see and recognize them?" wrote The Seattle Times in 1984. "The men, a visual mix of bearded hippie and biblical prophet. The women, with long flowing hair and dresses, submissively following. And the children. Dressed like baby hippies, herded in groups, they were usually very well behaved."

Some called them a cult. In 1972, two members died sniffing paint thinner in a religious rite. The family caused a sensation at the coroner's office by trying to resurrect the bodies.

But if they were a cult, they were our cult. They were distinctly Seattle - polite, back-to-the-land types. People loved their virtuous chosen names (like Beauty or Intuition) and their garlic festivals.

They grew up. They poked fun at stereotypes. Once the kids wore shirts to school that read "Cult member 1," "Cult member 2," and so on.

And look how the story's ending. There's no L.A.-style deprogramming or mass suicide. What could be more Seattle than drifting off to live in yurts and grow organic wine grapes?

Through it all, Love, 63, has remained a quixotic force. Even a skeptic like me can feel the tug of his charm. Yet his passion for pricey toys (a plane, a yacht) and risky business schemes always seems at odds with his message.

Yet the family survives. I drove to the Arlington ranch recently to tell Love I was sorry to see him go. Who can possibly be as entertaining?

He laughed. It's never been about him, he said.

"We'll be fine. They call us the Teflon cult because nothing sticks for long."

Then he leaned in close.

"We have been buying some properties in the area," he said. "Side by side, so we can bring everyone back together."

Where, he wouldn't say. A little snooping found it's in Bothell, on the banks of the Sammamish River.

"We're not done in Seattle," he said. "Someday we'll be back. If it takes a thousand years, we'll be back."

Don't you believe it?

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