ARLINGTON, Wash. – The Love Israel religious commune is trying to find a buyer for its longtime Snohomish County home.
The 60-member spiritual "family," whose members agree to take Israel as their last name and hold material goods in common, is counting on an auction of luxury items to bring in well-heeled potential buyers for the 305-acre ranch – asking price $8.5 million.
Park Royal Gallery in Sterling, Va., approached the family about staging the auction of jewels, fine art and other items over the Independence Day weekend.
"It's their stuff. It's not our stuff," noted family spokesman Serious Israel.
Items include antiques from the estate of singer Perry Como, as well as paintings by Como. There will be carved French chateau furniture, art from Dali and Renoir, jewels and a Rolex watch valued at $140,000.
The family, which erected a tent for the auction, won’t receive any of the money from the event. Park Royal will supply the armed guards, auctioneer and all the other trappings, said real estate agent Denise Swanson.
Love Israel gets an influx of prospective buyers for the ranch.
The property has been on the market for months, a result of the family running into repeated land-use roadblocks and going into increasing debt.
The family wanted to develop clustered housing and its own cottage industries, Serious Israel said. However, Snohomish County zoning and building codes, which allow only one home per five acres in rural areas, have thwarted those goals.
The commune was founded in 1968 in Seattle by Love Israel – formerly a television salesman named Paul Erdman – who persuaded a core of followers to pursue his vision of a Christian Utopia.
At its height, the family had more than 400 members and owned several houses on Seattle's Queen Anne Hill, property in Hawaii and Alaska, a vineyard in Eastern Washington, a cannery, a horse ranch and an old converted Navy mine sweeper that it used as a yacht.
In those days, members didn’t have jobs, preferring a "spiritual life," funded largely by the assets of new members.
In 1983, the family was struck with a maelstrom of accusations, with some accusing Love Israel of sexual opportunism and of using family money for drugs and an extravagant lifestyle.
He denied the allegations. But many members left. Love Israel worked in Los Angeles for a year as an investment banker to help rebuild the family’s assets, then returned in 1984 with a new vision – a village on land near Arlington the family had previously used as a campground.
2003, Baylor University Press, Waco, TX, New Religious Movements and Religious Liberty in America, pages 33-41,
Evidence of Mismanagement of CAN Finances and Vilolation of Fiduciary Responsibility,