BOTHELL – This neat, middle-class neighborhood near the Sammamish River looks far different than the yurts, shacks and other rag-tag dwellings that once housed the family of Love Israel.
Things have definitely changed.
Love Israel is the charismatic leader of the counterculture religious group Love Family, which for two decades was a fixture in the Arlington area.
More than two years ago, forced by bankruptcy, Love and his hundreds of followers sold their Arlington property and scattered across the state.
Love and a small number of the family members moved first to northeastern Washington, then settled in two houses in Bothell.
Now, the family divides its time between Bothell and Eastern Washington.
Even though the family has abandoned its communal lifestyle, Love still preaches his philosophy of loving one another and the oneness of humankind. It’s a message to which many of his followers still adhere, whether or not they live with him.
“It’s how it evolved,” Love said of the family. “There was never a conception of how the family should be. It is evolving naturally so we’re not a contrived family.”
Love and just 13 members are part of his immediate household in suburban Bothell.
Love, 66, collects a small Social Security check. He plays golf with the neighbors, goes to high school football games and watches the Seahawks on television.
In its heyday, the family numbered 300; people swarmed to Arlington to hear his message.
They lived on rural land outside Arlington – 300 acres of meadows and timberland – in a mix of temporary buildings near Jordan Road between Arlington and Granite Falls.
He and his group were controversial. Some labeled him a cult leader and accused some of his family members of being troublemakers.
But the family opened up the Arlington ranch to the public for an annual garlic festival, an event that drew thousands.
Family members started businesses, including a popular restaurant in downtown Arlington.
The name “Israel” appeared in sports box scores as the group’s children reached high school age.
In early 2004, they were forced by bankruptcy to sell the Arlington land to the Union for Reform Judaism. The property is being turned into a regional summer camp.
Some of the scores of people who were associated with the family over the years got Love’s message. Some didn’t, Love said.
Most of those once associated with the group have drifted away from the Love Family.
“There were a bunch of hippies hanging around the ranch,” he said. “We had to sort them out.”
The family has matured and separated. Love’s philosophy, however, has remained constant.
Now those still close to the family are spread out from the Bothell enclave of two homes to the far northeast reaches of the state, near Northport. Many former members are working in the community and have children or grandchildren of their own.
Some even keep the Love Family tradition of using of the surname “Israel” and first names depicting a positive characteristic.
At the Israel ranch in Arlington, the communal lifestyle included raising dozens of children together, gardening and doing other chores. But the lifestyle eventually became too much for even those most devoted to Love’s ideals.
“It wasn’t working for us as a household with our children and being able to run a household and support them,” said Devotion Israel, who had been a family member for two decades when they broke off in the early 1990s.
For her and her husband, Confidence, keeping control over their own family and educating their children took precedence over the community’s goals.
“It was the part that makes the nuts and bolts (of a family) work,” Devotion said.
Devotion and Confidence have seven children, most of them grown and living in the state. They now live in a place called China Bend, a flat area overlooking the Columbia River and the northern reaches of Lake Roosevelt near the town of Northport.
There was no schism or acrimony when they left.
“We made the decision to hold on to all the good that we had built together and eliminate, by moving out, all the stuff that didn’t work for us,” Devotion said.
Love, who was born Paul Erdman and was a California television salesman, shed the mainstream when he moved to Seattle in 1968.
He opened a drop-in center, a place for the young and disillusioned to visit, eat and sleep. He began buying houses and founded what he called the Church of Jesus Christ at Armageddon.
The money came from those who gave up their worldly possessions to join the group, and the enclave on Queen Anne Hill grew to 16 or 18 homes, Love recalls. At one time, the family population in Seattle numbered about 200.
Entertainer Steve Allen’s son for a time was a member of the group.
One disgruntled member who contributed a substantial amount of money to the family filed a lawsuit and got a judgment in the 1980s against the family to get his money back. The dispute caused a ripple within the family, and many left then.
The family members who stayed with Love moved to the Arlington property, where for two decades the family grew again. It also was in near-constant battle with Snohomish County over zoning and building violations that were never resolved.
The family was industrious in Arlington.
Besides the restaurant, members started several other businesses, including a construction outfit and a sawmill.
But Love borrowed too heavily to support the businesses, and he was forced into bankruptcy and had to sell the ranch property to pay off the debts.
Several dozen remaining members migrated in April 2004 to China Bend property that the family has owned for years. The site is just a short distance from the home that Devotion and Confidence are building.
Soon after the move, the family purchased a run-down house in Bothell. They renovated the house and painted it in bright yellow, green and red. It contains a large red room where Love still performs his daily services of prayer, meditation and song.
The home is in an area of Bothell near the homes of a grown son and daughter of Love and his partner of 39 years, Honesty.
A second house next door also was purchased in 2005 and repaired. In addition, Love would like to round out the new enclave by purchasing a nearby small apartment house and converting it to condominiums.
“We have a lot of kids trying to live here,” Love said.
Current neighbors have no objections, said John Herold, a teacher who lives across the street.
“They are very well liked. Some of them have very good construction skills and they have done some remodels in the neighborhood,” Harold said. “They’re involved in the neighborhood, what’s going on in the community.”
One of Love’s occasional golfing partners, neighbor Ronald Risden, said the Love Family improved home values in the areas by fixing up what he described as a “worn down” property.
“He looks like a hippie out of the ’60s because he has that ponytail,” Risden said. Appearances aside, “they turned out to be very good neighbors.”
Love isn’t a great golfer, however. Risden said Love’s golf handicap is in the 20 to 25 range.
A past neighbor in Arlington is glad the Love Family left the ranch.
Keith Graves, whose tree farm is adjacent to what was the ranch, was an outspoken opponent. At one time he was in a property-line dispute with Love.
To him, Love was controlling.
“I just know when someone controls everything, it’s a cult, isn’t it?” Graves said.
In the summertime, the China Bend property in Stevens County now boasts a small number of tents, yurts and a fixed-up old homestead cabin, all reminiscent of dwellings that once dotted a hillside at the Arlington ranch.
The northeast Washington property now mostly is a place for family retreats and study, Love said. It’s also within walking distance of a half-dozen households, all former members or associates of the family. They have gone their own ways, yet remain in close contact with Love and the family.
Confidence Israel’s home is one of them.
He and Devotion put their own family first but maintain Love’s vision of creating a new value system in the world.
“That was the whole idea behind the community; to create a new vision of Jesus Christ,” said Confidence, who was one of the first people to join Love in Seattle.
When he left the family in the early 1990s, Confidence went to work for Loyalty Alexander as a vineyard manager at China Bend. Alexander and his wife, Victory Israel Alexander, grow grapes and other organic produce and run the China Bend Winery. They also run a bed-and-breakfast.
Alexander, who uses the first name “Bart” when he goes to the chamber of commerce, in Stevens County, never lived with the family but has maintained a close association with members for many years. He also uses the name “Loyalty” when he associates with family members.
“We never had any reason not to stay with our friends,” said Alexander, who is now bottling his 2004 vintage. “We’ve been associated with a lot of the family members going on 30 years or more.”
To him, Love’s family is just that – family.
“We’ve known each other longer than most people have ever known each other,” he said. “We have built friendship and respect, which are pretty valuable in this day and age.”
In Bothell, Love and his household live comfortably. Honesty set the table for more than 40 people at Thanksgiving dinner, including many of their children and their families.
“The kids remember what they loved about being in a village,” Love said.
He still dons robes for daily services and plays the flute every day. Music has always been a ritual in the family life.
Love still controls a construction business called ISCO, or Israel Construction. Neither it nor any of the property is in his name, he said.
“The family owns everything; I don’t personally own anything,” he said.
The back yards of the two adjacent homes are being groomed into an area for large gatherings and formal occasions such as weddings. Quaking aspen trees provide a parklike setting.
“We want to go back to what we know, and that is gathering together,” Love said.
Love said he’s satisfied that things are working out as they should. The adjacent Bothell homes are a bit like the beginning almost four decades ago on Queen Anne Hill.
“Everyone who knows the truth still likes each other,” Love said, adding that the family’s evolution will continue. “I think we’re boiling down to the beginning.
“We’re going back to what we know,” he said, “and that’s gathering together and being together.”
About the Love Family
1968 Paul Erdman becomes Love Israel, moves to Seattle and starts the Love Family on Queen Anne Hill.
1983 The family grows to at least a couple hundred, but it splits over money matters. Former member Daniel Gruener sues Love Israel and the family for return of inherited money he turned over to the family. Love then goes to California to earn some money while part of the family moves to Arlington.
1985 Love returns from California, where he worked in mortgage banking, and refinances the Arlington ranch property to forestall foreclosure.
Late 1990s Love borrows heavily to support numerous family-run businesses.
2003 The family files for bankruptcy.
2004 A few dozen remaining members retreat to China Bend in northeastern Washington after the 300-acre ranch property was sold.
2004 and 2005 Two adjacent homes in Bothell are purchased to become the Love Family headquarters, where his immediate household of 13 live.
Love Israel founded the Church of Jesus Christ at Armageddon based on three principles:
His philosophy borrows from Christianity, Judaism and a number of other religions. He said: We try to give substance to love. The greatest feeling in the world is when love is coming through you, and when love is coming through you, God is coming through you.
Reporter Jim Haley: 425-339-3447 or email@example.com.