What the Heck is That?
A Yogi Temple? Or?
The Mysterious Temple and its Overlooked Sibling on Fair Avenue, Westside, Santa Cruz
I wish I had a nickel for every time I have been asked about that unusual building on Fair Avenue (and its subtler sibling just up the street). Most inquiries are about the wondrous temple complex at 519 Fair (just opposite Plateau Avenue) because it is the more visible of the two. The other is at 1211 Fair, hidden behind a chain link fence.
legends and rumors that swirl about the temple building, in particular, are enough to fill a book. And, as with most such things, they are invented. The stories of both buildings revolve around the Kitchen Brothers. Once upon a time there were two brothers-Kenneth and Raymond Kitchen. Raymond was a stonemason while Kenneth worked with bricks. A stonemason and a brickmason. Solid folks. Both were masters of their craft, and as often happens, art and blood made it difficult for them to work together. Put simply, they didn't get along. Also, according to interviews with those who knew them, they were a tad, well, eccentric. Kenneth being farther out than his brother. The best way to remember the two brothers is to remember that Kenneth did bricks, and the temple was his.
Sometime during World War II, Kenneth began building the temple complex at 519 Fair Avenue. According to local oral tradition, the two brothers had been in Turkey during World War I, and Kenneth's inspiration for the building comes from Orthodox Christian structures. Originally there were radio towers on the property and Kenneth believed that he could, through those towers, hear German (!) submarines out in the bay. He would soak his mattress with a garden hose, and then lie on it, with his headphones on, listening for (to?) those submarines. Raymond would often bring him his dinner. The only religious significance to the structure was that Kenneth hoped to declare it a church and thus avoid paying taxes. Later a Greek Orthodox minister who said that he felt a strong bond to the building purchased the building. Meanwhile, up the street at 1211 Fair, brother Raymond built his vision out of stone. Inspired by a postcard he received from India, he took Indian architectural themes and integrated them into the building. Like his brother, Raymond was not religious either; he just liked unusual architecture.
Raymond was particularly skillful at building stone fireplaces, often being commissioned by Hollywood personalities to go down to Southern California and build a fireplace or two. The large cylinder in the building was originally a fireplace, the largest in Santa Cruz at the time. Later owner, Dr. B. Stoller, put two windows into the structure and converted it into an office. (Fireplaces usually don't have windows.) Raymond also made a tunnel beneath the building and created an elaborate water system. Like his brother, Raymond did most of his work at night, which some neighbors believed was caused by some mystical or religious inclinations. Others said that the two brothers were just trying to avoid the prying eyes of building inspectors.
Both Raymond and Kenneth moved away from Santa Cruz in the 1950s, some say to the mid-West. But, they left behind a legacy to that on-going struggle between individual creativity and building inspectors everywhere. And throughout Santa Cruz you can still get a glimpse here and there of the incredible stone and brickwork left by the two brothers. A note on the name: Back in the 1970s, when radio personalities Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva were doing their regular radio show on KUSP, they were so taken by the Kitchen Brothers that they adopted the name "The Kitchen Sisters" which they continue to use professionally to this day. The Kitchen Sisters recently won a Peabody Award for their work on National Public Radio. The Kitchen Brothers would have been proud.