A story about a hippie sex cult centered in an Los Angeles vegetarian restaurant sound perfect for infamy, but the story of the Source Family has largely remained underground. The counterculture tale of Father Yod (aka Jim Baker), his restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, his rock band-cum-cult, and its eventual dissolution remains one of the most fascinating stories of cult behavior and even begs the question: when does a group of people go from being weird hippie vegans to orgy-tastic cult members who will follow their leader anywhere...except off a cliff?
Despite an excellent 2012 documentary, Source Family, the story has slipped through the cracks of America counterculture history. Here's what you need to know.
Former Marine Jim Baker Becomes Father Yod
Jim Baker was a strange man living in strange times. Born July 4 of 1922, Baker served in the Marines during World War II, where he was discharged with a silver medal. He was also a Jujutsu master. Before the 1960s, Baker's life was full of strange dichotomies: he was a decorated former soldier with an interest in health food and mysticism long before that was envogue.
Baker wasn't all good vibes though. The future guru had a family that he ditched before moving to Los Angeles, convinced he'd make it as a stuntman. Once in LA, he was convicted of murdering actress Jean Ingram's husband in 1963 with a deadly Jujutsu chop to the throat. He was arrested and tried, but never convicted, claiming it was in self-defense.
Baker alleged that he committed another murder the same way before becoming Father Yod (rhymes with "load"), and bragged that he raised the money to open the Source Restaurant by robbing banks. (These claims have never been proven.)
In the early 60s in Los Angeles, Baker experimented with LSD and speed, before turning to the spiritualism and mysticism of the times, eventually studying under Yogi Bhajan, a Sikh spiritual leader and teacher of Kundalini Yoga. That is when Jim Baker officially began calling himself Father Yod and things started to get weird.
The Family Opens The Successful Source Restaurant
There is a famous scene in Woody Allen movie Annie Hall where Alvie travels to L.A. to win back Annie, and they end up at this restaurant where he complainingly orders "alfalfa sprouts and mashed yeast." The setting is the Source Restaurant. On April 1st, 1969 Jim Baker opened the restaurant that he bought for $35,000. The concept, years before it's time, served a stringent vegetarian health regime. At the time, the idea of a meatless restaurant, blew people's minds. And they loved it. Customers overlooked the restaurant's claim that its menu was based on the "dietary wisdom found in the teachings of Jesus Christ as revealed through the Essene Gospels of Peace."
So, like, a lot of salads and stuff.
The Source Family Enjoys Hot Yoga, a White Rolls Royce and a Manson Connection
The Source Restaurant quickly became popular with celebrities like Marlon Brando, John Lennon, Julie Christie and Greta Garbo who gobbling Baker's goods.
Soon te restaurant regularly had a line around the block of people waiting to get into this mystical, new-age restaurant. Baker remained front and center of the Source scene, although by now he was going by the name Father Yod and Ya Ho Wha. After spending some time under the tutelage of Yogi Bhajan, Father Yod now had his own group of acolytes: his employees. Though "employees" is perhaps not the most accurate description for these young, impressionable children.
With the restaurant raking in an alleged $10,000 a day (equivalent to $40,000 a day in 2018), Father Yod began to expand the restaurant into more of a scene. He would offer yoga classes and could be seen around town, driving a white Rolls Royce (a favorite of cult leaders), picking up young, impressionable girls and bringing them to his "yoga studio" inside the restaurant.
One of the earliest converters was a 19-year-old Robin Popper. The go-go dancer had turned down Father Yod's offers several times, but on August 9, 1969, she decided to attend a yoga class at The Source Restaurant instead of her previous plans: a night at her friend Sharon Tate's house. That evening, the Manson family murdered everyone in Tate's house at 10050 Cielo Drive.
Popper decided this must be fate and she married Father Yod, making her the first official "Mother" of the Source Family.
Source Family Members Were Decidedly Hip
Eventually, Father Yod amassed 140+ followers/employees, all of whom rid themselves of their houses and belongings to move closer to their "earthly, spiritual father" and his home above the restaurant. Devotees just so happened to be all young, beautiful, and stylish, despite essentially living and working together 24/7.
The Source Family was very hip. They weren't dirty hippies; despite the long hair and beards on the men, everyone was clean and well-dressed. They were style icons in a way that the Manson family or members of the Jim Jones cult weren't.
Father Yod learned very early on that the secret to success was finding as many underage, beautiful women as possible under one roof, even when that meant he had to marry them off to other members of the Family, so the children's parents couldn't send the police after them for being runaways.