On January 26, 1984, the Love Israel Family, Washington's largest and best-known countercultural commune, gives up all its Seattle properties in an out-of-court settlement. Founded on Queen Anne Hill in October 1968, the religious group led by a man who calls himself Love Israel has owned or occupied some 15 houses and other properties on the Hill and seemed to be thriving. But this past summer several elders just beneath Love Israel in the hierarchy led a revolt that led to about two-thirds of the members leaving and also to a lawsuit. In that suit Daniel Gruener (recently known as Richness Israel), sought restitution for approximately $1.3 million that Gruener, an heir to DuPont Company fortunes, claimed he had given the Family during his dozen years as a member. The case was scheduled to be heard the following day in King County Superior Court, but a day of negotiations between the dissidents and loyal Family members produced a late evening settlement. Gruener would receive the Seattle properties, and a few other individuals would regain properties they had given the Family, while Love Israel and a hundred or so loyal followers retained a Snohomish County parcel of almost 300 acres they called The Ranch.
In the final days of October 1968, 28-year-old Paul Erdmann had brought several friends together in a small bungalow on Queen Anne Hill. They prayed, meditated, read the Bible, smoked marijuana, and generally lived a quiet life in sparse surroundings. Erdmann soon announced that he should now be known as Love Israel; his followers took the Israel surname and a first name that was either Biblical or represented a virtue.
The Love Israel Family acquired a notable presence in Seattle despite controversies over issues of lifestyle and practices. Living communally but firmly controlled by the charismatic Love Israel, more than 300 members occupied houses scattered about the neighborhood and ran several shops and a construction company. Their operations even expanded to the Snohomish County ranch, the Yakima Valley, Alaska, Hawaii, a Columbia River horse ranch, and a place called China Bend in northeastern Washington.
Rumblings of Discontent
By the summer of 1983 there were rumblings of discontent, fueled in part by two of Love Israel’s principal lieutenants, Logic Israel, who among other roles headed the construction business, and Strength Israel, who ran the ranch. Such leaders were taking on responsibilities and having contacts with the larger community and had come to view themselves as better qualified than Love to handle various Family financial matters. Moreover, as the Family had grown, it became more dispersed; no longer was it the simple commune of earlier years where everyone knew each other and shared their lives intimately. Subsequently Love had grown removed from rank-and-file members, taking on a better lifestyle and enjoying far greater privileges than they.
Also, the growing number of children called for new needs that some parents agreed were not being met. The dissatisfied dissidents composed a letter to Love expressing their concerns. Twenty-nine signers acknowledged his spiritual leadership and professed their continuing love for him, but they asked that he turn over certain affairs of the Family to others. When the letter was presented to Love, he angrily tore it up and the die was cast. Viewing this as a signal that the Family could no longer continue as it had, many leading members determined to leave, forcing the rank and file to decide whether or not to follow suit. Ultimately about two-thirds left the Family while a hundred continued their allegiance to Love, their leader.
Negotiating the Settlement
The departing dissidents also turned to Daniel Gruener, whose inherited wealth had been a major source of funding over many years. Professing that he was more concerned for others who had lost everything than for his own benefit, on January 11, 1984, Gruener sued the Family to regain a substantial amount of the donations he had made over a dozen years. These included not only funds from his inheritance and real estate in Alaska, but such personal items as vintage automobiles and fire engines, a Bolex camera, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, family furniture, and even a pair of Belgian work horses. Gruener claimed that he had been coerced into making these donations, to which Love and his loyalists countered that he had acted of his free will and had long and willingly accepted Love’s leadership.
In the ensuing days, Love’s opponents secured a court injunction preventing him from selling any properties, thus tying up funds he might have. Love filed for bankruptcy protection that might allow him to reorganize the Family and its religious arm, the Church of Jesus Christ at Armageddon. Meanwhile, his adversaries threatened to publicly expose him for possible criminal acts.
A day before the scheduled court date, representatives from both sides met at an attorney’s office in downtown Seattle for a "a marathon negotiating session" (McCoy, January 27, 1984) and worked to reach an settlement. Gruener, now living near China Bend, was present along with his attorneys and supporters. In a separate room were four Love loyalists who had assumed leadership of the Family after their leader had temporarily moved to California and turned powers over to them. A throng of curious media representatives held forth outside, their presence accentuating the public interest that surrounded the Family and its potential demise. Both teams of negotiators seemed eager to avoid the sensationally unfavorable publicity that they were certain a court trial could bring.
That evening they reached a secret agreement that both sides proclaimed fair and decent. A public court hearing had been avoided. Although the terms were not made public, it soon became obvious that Gruener had acquired the Queen Anne Hill properties and that several other specific individuals would receive back properties they had given or fair compensation. The undisclosed charges against Love personally would be laid to rest.
Family Life After Seattle
Over the next several months, remaining Love Israel Family members moved out of the Queen Anne Hill homes and the neighborhood where they had been a visible presence for a decade and a half. By June they were gone, with Gruener the owner of their former properties. But although the Seattle Post-Intelligencer headlined that "Love Family Slips Toward Oblivion" (McCoy, January 26, 1984), these events did not mark the end of the Family. The hundred or so members who remained loyal to Love Israel regrouped at the nearly 300-acre ranch a few miles outside Arlington in Snohomish County that the settlement allowed them to keep. Even then, controversy over encumbrances on that property would dog them for several years. As in Seattle, the Family became active in local entrepreneurial ventures including a fine restaurant in downtown Arlington and a popular annual garlic festival.
But efforts to develop their property into a rural village brought severe financial difficulties. Twenty years after leaving Seattle, the Family was forced to sell the Arlington property. Love Israel and a few of those closest to him took up residence in a quiet, conventional neighborhood in Bothell. They also maintained and further developed the China Bend property in Northeastern Washington. Other former members scattered. The Family continued, not as the closeknit commune of Seattle days but as a sort of extended family, including many who retained a loyalty to the spiritual leadership and influence of the man they called Love Israel.