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Half of a Love Family mansion listed for $1.4 million

Now a townhouse, it preserves a sliver of the free love era

Courtesy of Windermere

Originally, the Love Family’s huge Victorian-revival home started out as two small houses. Then, slowly, the followers of the local communal religious movement combined the two, saving some parts and adding others as their construction expertise grew.

They added curved walls and bold, wooden trusses. The home eventually featured a birthing room, sleeping nooks for many of leader Love Israel’s children, and a network of cubbies for younger members to stay in, dubbed “cube city.” They built a soaring spiral staircase to a roof deck.

The home was a constant work in progress, and was never completely finished; the family gave up the property in 1984 after a schism in the commune.

For the next two decades, they lived in a ranch up in Arlington, and became a regular fixture in the area with their annual Garlic Festival. Eventually, they’d become the subject of the 2009 documentary It Takes a Cult.

Meanwhile, the original Queen Anne compound was going through its own evolution. In the early 1990s, the homes around the property were converted into residences. Today, all the homes surrounding the Love Family’s garden are part of the same complex—“The Gardens”—and the family’s massive mansion is now two huge townhouses.

One half of the house, belonging to artist Susie Hecht, was featured in a Seattle Times profile in 2013. The other half of that house, belonging to Jane Nelson, is currently on the market.

They both describe a feeling left behind by the Love Family’s years there.

“I walked in the front door and the energy was just like, I don’t know, it was incredible,” said Nelson during a recent to the home.

“I’m not particularly what I’ll call a ‘woo-woo’ type of person, but I had a physical response when I went into the house,” added Hecht.

Hecht and Nelson seem close, likely because their homes interact in the strangest ways. The homes aren’t split down the original home lines, creating steps and variation in the floors. Curved walls, originally built by the Love family, are shared between the houses, truncated only by the more-traditional walls separating the homes.

These walls especially stand out in the half currently on the market. It includes a master bedroom with curvy cubbies extending out on each side, like an octopus.

Honesty Israel, who was married to Love Israel for more than 40 years, told us that her kids slept in those cubbyholes. Stopping by a recent open house, she said, she and her son sat back in the alcoves where they once slept—some now with built-in closets.

Another alcove is now an off-bedroom office. Yet another creates a small reading nook.

“You’re building it for as many people as you could,” she explained—but everyone had “their own little place.”

Still, she notes, it got easier once they moved to the Arlington ranch. “We were a bunch of crazy kids of the ‘60s that went through our zealous years and we’ve all grown up,” she said. “It was just not an easy thing to live communally once you start having children, because you want your own little family.”

From the master bedroom, you can see where the houses were separated, with one large step leading up to the master bath—formerly a small kitchen—and a meditation area.

The thing that really makes this half stand out, though, is the roof deck, added by the Love family. A spiral staircase opens up to a patio at the roof’s apex through a steeple.

“There used to be a meditation part in the top,” said Israel. “You could crawl up there.”

Past the staircase, a balcony creates a less-lofty outdoor space.

On the main floor, a large living room is anchored by a wide, brick fireplace with a dramatic mantle and a bench that spans the entire wall. This was half the sanctuary—the other half is beyond the wall in the other half of the home.

The living room is so large that currently, it serves as both the formal dining area and a sitting area. But much of where the family would gather “went to the other side,” said Israel.

The family’s kitchen, apparently, also went to the other side. Israel says what’s now the kitchen used to be a formal dining area. She notes that the family dined with Steve Allen here—the TV personality whose son was one of the family’s more prominent members.

In the finished basement, the second bedroom is more of a nook—but opens up to a second living area, complete with a second fireplace and a conversation pit.

This area is also home to the second bath and a small office that opens to a storage unit shared with the neighbors. A back door leads out to a small, grassy lawn.

This pair of townhomes, along with the rest of the former Love Family compound, surrounds a large courtyard, now maintained using funds from the homeowner’s association.

Back in the Love Family’s day, one of the homes surrounding the garden was a caretaker’s home, Israel told us. Another used to be a painting studio.

“It’s nothing like what was there,” Israel said. “They were able to get extra homes in there... They made it beautiful.”

We asked if Israel had her eye on the house. “I’m not attached to it,” she said. “We’ve been gone a long time.”

“We just don’t have a million dollars,” she added. “And we’d want to put it together as one.”

Still, said Nelson, the communal feeling of the home—and its reputation in the neighborhood—remains. “Different people that I've run into...say, ‘oh that's where you live,’ say, ‘oh, I've been in your home, I've been to parties in your home, I've had relationships with people in your home,’” she recalled. “So it's in a way very communal still.”