The story of a hippie cult centered around a Los Angeles vegetarian restaurant sounds destined for infamy, but the Source Family has largely remained underground. The countercultural tale of Father Yod (born Jim Baker), his restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, and his rock band-turned-cult remains one of the most fascinating anecdotes of the New Age. However, it begs the question: How does a group of hippie vegans become a free-loving cult who will follow their leader anywhere... except off a cliff?
Despite an excellent 2012 documentary, The Source Family, the story has slipped through the cracks of American counterculture history. Here's what you need to know.
Jim Baker was a strange man living in strange times. Born on July 4, 1922, Baker served in the Marines during WWII and earned the Silver Star for his actions. He was also a Jujutsu master. Baker's life was full of strange dichotomies: He was a decorated veteran with an interest in health food and mysticism long before that was in vogue.
Baker wasn't all good vibes, though. The future guru had a family that he ditched for a life in show business in Los Angeles. Once in LA, he was accused of ending the life of actress Jean Ingram's husband with a Jujutsu chop to the throat. He was never convicted of the offense.
Baker claimed he took another life using the same method before becoming Father Yod (rhymes with "load"), and bragged that he raised the money to open the Source Restaurant by holding up banks (these claims have never been proven).
In the early 1960s, Baker experimented with LSD and speed before turning to spiritualism and mysticism. He went on to study under Yogi Bhajan, a Sikh spiritual leader and teacher of Kundalini Yoga. It was during this period that Jim Baker officially began calling himself Father Yod - and things started to get weird.
There is a famous scene in Woody Allen's Annie Hall in which Alvy begrudgingly orders "alfalfa sprouts and mashed yeast" while on a trip to LA. The setting is the Source Restaurant. Opened by Jim Baker on April 1, 1969, the restaurant was years ahead of its time and served a stringent vegetarian health menu. 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, that means it had a lot of salads and stuff.
The Source Restaurant quickly became popular with celebrities like Marlon Brando, John Lennon, Julie Christie, and Greta Garbo. The restaurant regularly had a line around the block filled with people waiting to get into this mystical, new-age restaurant. Baker remained at the front and center of the Source scene, although by now he was going by the names 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. However, "employees" may not be the most accurate description for these impressionable young people.
With the restaurant raking in an alleged $10,000 a day (equivalent to $40,000 a day in 2018), Father Yod began to expand his restaurant into more of a scene. He began offering yoga classes and was often seen driving a white Rolls-Royce (apparently a favorite of cult leaders). He was known to pick up young, impressionable girls and bring them back to his "yoga studio" inside the restaurant.
One of the earliest converts was 19-year-old Robin Popper. The go-go dancer had turned down Father Yod's advances several times. However, on August 9, 1969, she chose a yoga class at the Source Restaurant over her previous plans: a night at her friend Sharon Tate's house. That evening, the Manson Family took the lives of everyone in Tate's house at 10050 Cielo Drive.
Popper decided it must be fate and married Father Yod, making her the first official "mother" of the Source Family.
Eventually, Father Yod amassed around 140 followers, all of whom rid themselves of their houses and belongings to move closer to their "earthly, spiritual father" and his home above the restaurant. Yod's devotees just so happened to be young, beautiful, and stylish, despite essentially living and working together 24/7.
The Source Family was very hip. They weren't dirty hippies; despite their long hair, everyone was clean and well-dressed. They were style icons in a way that members of the Manson Family or the Peoples Temple weren't.
Father Yod learned very early on that the secret to success was finding as many young, beautiful women as possible and housing them under one roof.