Introduction


Presented in reverse chronology, this history stretches from the present back to the Fellowship's 1970 founding, and beyond.
(See "Blog Archive" in the sidebar below.) It draws from many sources, including The Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the Internet Archive, the former Fellowship of Friends wiki project, cult education and awareness sites, news archives, and from the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

The portrait that emerges stands in stark contrast to sanitized versions presented on the Fellowship's array of
alluring websites, and on derivative sites created by Burton's now-estranged
disciple, Asaf Braverman.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Build it, (and the inspectors will come.)


Illegal Fellowship of Friends Theatron structure at Apollo compound, Oregon House, CA
The illegal Fellowship of Friends Theatron structure at Apollo, Oregon House, CA

[ed. - Yet another example of the Fellowship of Friends flaunting the laws to which mere mortals are subject. "Since it's a 'religious structure,' (Abraham Goldman) said, "Fellowship members thought they could build it first and get the permit later." The Board of Supervisors subsequently approved a Conditional Use Permit for "Phase 1."]

Amphitheater lacks permit
December 21, 2004 09:00:00 AM
By Harold Kruger/Appeal-Democrat

A new amphitheater graces the Yuba County foothills, rising from the Fellowship of Friends' property in Oregon House.

The Theatron, as it's called, is reinforced concrete faced with limestone. The landscaping is palm trees.

The facility may eventually have enough seating for about 2,200.

"It's certainly a wonderful structure, no doubt about it," said Abraham Goldman, the Fellowship's attorney. "It was built with real love and care by some very skilled people."

And it was built without any county permits.

"The use is not permitted in the zone and requires approval of the Planning Commission prior to conducting any such activity," Peter Calarco, assistant director of the county's Community Development Department, wrote to Fellowship officials last July. "Additionally, all permits relating to the building, health and safety code must be obtained."

Last summer, a county inspector, who was nearby on another job, was told of the construction and issued a red-tag, stopping construction.

Next month, the county Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing on the Fellowship's request for a conditional use permit.

"The county is going to do what they have to do to get it taken care of," said Martin Griffin, the county's chief building official. "If they don't get the CUP, I guess they'll be tearing it down. It's not guaranteed they're going to get their use permit."

Griffin said the amphitheater is the biggest building he knows of in the county erected without permits. He said it's been valued at a little more than $2 million.


"Usually, we get a garage here or bar here or something," he said. "It was pretty big. Nice job."

Griffin, in an August letter to the Fellowship, said the group has to meet these requirements to obtain a county permit:

  • Adequate permanent restroom structures for both males and females.
  • Adequate water supply for fire flow in hydrants around amphitheater.
  • A path of travel for emergency exit from the amphitheater to Rice's Crossing Road.

Goldman said there was ready explanation for construction preceding permitting.

Since it's a "religious structure," he said, Fellowship members thought they could build it first and get the permit later.

"It was not the intent not to get a permit," Goldman said. "The problem was, given the fact it's a small church and the funding is irregular, the plans were changing. When we met with (county officials), since the plans were changing rather frequently, it just didn't seem like it was going to work to submit one plan and a second plan and the third plan and fourth plan until the Fellowship could see what it could accomplish."

The Theatron is "really not completed yet," Goldman said. "It had gotten to a certain point where the Fellowship was confident it could be presented to the county and not go around on a merry-go-round and be changed again and again."

The Fellowship, a worldwide group that bases its beliefs on the teachings of Russian philosophers George Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky, has been in Oregon House since July 4, 1971, an anniversary the group celebrates along with Independence Day. It also operates a winery there.

In a letter last June to the county, Goldman wrote that the Fellowship "is not asking for any special favors."

According to his letter, "The site in question is an essential extension of the Fellowship's religious buildings on the Oregon House property and is devoted 100 percent to activities that involve the Fellowship's religious teachings."

He wrote that the Fellowship was "willing to immediately sign any indemnification agreement the county might request, and deposit anticipated fees for any permitting that might need to be done."

A few days later, Linda Tulisso [Linda Kaplan], the Fellowship's president, wrote to the county, explaining that most of the group's 2,200 members are scattered around the world.

No more than 700 would gather at the Theatron at any one time, she said, "and that is not anticipated to change for the foreseeable future."

Goldman, in an interview, praised the county for how it's handled the situation.

"I would say, from 10 to 15 years ago, Yuba County has come a long way and the current administration is a real model of people that are qualified and very helpful, not like the old days," he said.

Unlike the larger Sleep Train Amphitheater, the Fellowship's Theatron will not be open to the general public, Goldman said.

"The Fellowship wants to be a real good citizen and help out any way they can," he said. "We can't afford to make this a public structure because it would cost millions of dollars more in roads and things if the public could come to it. The Fellowship would be happy to share, but can't afford it. It's for members only. If there's any way the county or the city wants to enlist our assistance in some fashion, we're always open to that."

In his June letter, Goldman said the Fellowship "has been a very good citizen of Yuba County."

The Fellowship hosted "a high-ranking Air Force general and his wife in connection with the efforts to keep Beale Air Force Base open, which the Fellowship fully supports," he wrote.

Appeal-Democrat reporter Harold Kruger can be reached at 749-4717. You may e-mail him at hkruger@appeal-democrat.com.

Read more: http://www.appeal-democrat.com/news/fellowship-21444-goldman-amphitheater.html#ixzz1WRm6xI1R

[ed. - Harold Kruger wrote a follow-up opinion piece in his Appeal-Democrat "Off Beat" column.]
No Yuba permit? - It's no problem

By Harold Kruger/Appeal-Democrat
Posted: Sunday, January 30, 2005 12:00 am

Have you been thinking about building something in Yuba County? Have you wondered about all those darn permits and approvals you need?

Well, there's no need to worry any more.

Permits? What permits? Go ahead and build the thing. The permits will come later, and so will the county's OK.

That was the distinct message earlier this month when the county Planning Commission routinely approved a conditional use permit for the Fellowship of Friends' Theatron, the glorious amphitheater nestled in Oregon House.

It was built last year, but somewhere along the way somebody forgot to tell the county. Eventually, a county building inspector, who happened to be in the neighborhood, was tipped about the amphitheater, which can hold about 1,400 people. It was kind of hard to miss.

So it came time for the Planning Commission to dive into this issue and ask the tough questions of Fellowship officials. How could this happen? What's going on here?

Nope.

No tough questions.

No indignation.

No nothing.

The commissioners never mentioned the history of the Theatron. They never asked. They didn't seem to care.

They didn't have much to say about anything.

No big deal, apparently.

Some of the folks from Oregon House who came down the hill for the hearing mentioned how unfair it was for the Fellowship to be able to build without permits and get them later, while seemingly everybody else in the county does it the other way around.

But that didn't get much of a rise out of the commissioners. It didn't get any rise at all.

And so the next time somebody builds in Yuba County without a permit - and it's bound to happen - they can just point to the example of the Fellowship's Theatron and say, "Oh, we're sorry. We thought it was all right to build what we want. We're in Yuba County."


"X-Ray" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 28, 2011:

[ed. - English is not X-Ray's first language. I refrained from editing the text, as the message seems clear.]


I don´t mind Ames, but how much a slave like me can tell you except how much I hated that?

What I do remember is working like a donkey for 400 dollars a month six days a week 10 hours a day under a burning sun trying to remember myself, not express negative emotion, no judging, no having a lower ´´I´´, not loosing a valuation for the school and so far and so on.

I think it was around 2001 when burton still had his Greek hysteria, deciding to build a theatron so he can invite the Russian ballet dancers to Apollo who then were paid by cash from tickets purchased by 500 students who were encourage to see ballet because it was good for their evolution.

There were auctions after auction with over a hundred thousand dollars proceeds each. I think, conservatively speaking, there was over a million dollar raised during the first year just from the auctions. Theatron was the worse octave there, the hardest one, people didn’t want to work there but as you know, killing yourself for the aim of the school is good for your evolution too, so you just doing it. People were getting hurt there without treatment ¨¨it just your machine, your soul is evolving´´.

There were other slaves who were cutting the white blocks up on the hill also for salary, so I think, they were only buying the blocks. How much that cost I don’t know, but I kind of doubt that it cost as much as they were raising for it.

At the most we were around 10 workers in total, multiply by 400 a month, you get 4000 a month. One auction a month over one hundred thousand dollars. They were paying out 4000 in salary buying some block and putting in their packets tons of cash. Then one day Louidgi came (a landscaping octave leader, and not a bad guy really, he actually had a heart and was trying to be kind to people without getting a hit on himself) and said that for the next two days all of us have to carry the big pots with cultivated plants (a little palm trees which was burtons obsession at the time) to the theatron to cover it completely. We did. Few days later came inspectors.

I think it was W.M. who have suggested to block the road to Galleria/Academy ( the road that leads to theatron) and lead them up the hill to the winery. From there you could see a big spot of little palm trees brought together. I don´t remember the details but soon after that this octave was suspended for a while but then continued again and the theatron was built. Burton was inviting his Russian ballet dancers, then inviting them for ´´school events´´, was giving them whole a lot of attention.

There were rumors that the county shuted down the project because they didnt have a building permit but people were dismissing that as gossips.

The auctions were continuing regardless and more money were puring into their packets. So how much they raised only 44 knows.

What I remember very well, is my feeling when coming to have a lunch at Apollo doro once and been asked from now an on to pay a 50 cents for the olive oil (which was free before)to use with the bred, thanks to which I felt full after lunch. And that´s after serving at burtons´ dinners for free, as a third line work after 10 hours work and seeing how all untouched food was removed from the hungry students who just paid about $100 per person, was thrown out.

I think thats pretty much all what I can think of now. Will right more if anything will come up.
If anyone remember better, please do correct me.

Oh, the location.. when you get out from the Gallerias front door, you go thru the rose garden( a deadly place for deers, dogs and cats) passing a Posaidon fountain which also cost about 140 thousands dollars, crossing the road going down, they planted palm trees there, going farther and you get there.

From the theatron you can see the winery pretty much streith ahead on the hill. The capacity is hard to say, but when we had about 500 people, there was space for more on the sides. Down below you had a stage. burton always was coming last with his flying monkeys, of course getting the best sitts.

"My2Bits" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 29, 2011:
Re: Theatron posts

The Theatron, generally described in previous posts, was perhaps the Fellowship’s most expensive infrastructure project. After years of holding music, theatre, and dance performances on make-shift stages in the woods, at locations only accessible by dirt roads, RB needed to have a venue worthy of his ambitions.

In my view, the construction of the Theatron revolved around RB’s wish to attract high-level ballet artists to OH to perform exclusively for him and his. Of course, musicians and actors would also have their time in the spotlight.

The crowning moment was, perhaps, when a troupe of dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet invited RB to join them on the stage for a final bow. To them, he was like a wealthy rock star, living on a huge estate in the middle of nowhere. All-expense paid travel between Moscow and the US, generous fees, wining and dining hosted by resident Russians — what a deal! RB cultivated relationships with these artists to the extent that the Bolshoi company had to push back legally to prevent RB from hijacking dancers from their performance contracts at home.

That such first-class artists would travel to OH to perform for RB & Co. offered him much-needed validation after the failed ’98 prophesy, and proved what some 4th Way ‘chutzpah’ and a little money could do — with a little help from the Angels, of course. But his moment of glory had its human price.

The Theatron was build by student labor, cheap or free. Pieces were individually cut from Texas limestone and were assembled to form the amphitheater. Once, I spent a half-day tying foundational re-bar in the hot sun, and that was more than enough for me. I remember the ‘cutting tent’ up near the winery where a crew of students worked endlessly with electric saws, finishing each day completely covered in white limestone dust. The construction work was gruelling, to say the least, but the telling of the most pertinent back stories should be left to the workers themselves.

It was hard to pin down the actual cost of this project. A million? Millions? All I know for sure is that there was fundraiser after fundraiser, year after year.

Gala events were held to celebrate the completion of the Theatron, and to send the venue on a few technical shakedown cruises. It took a bit of getting used to, for performers and audience alike. The seats were flat limestone slabs. Soon, there was a busy local market in designer cushions and luxury portable seating.

The first stage was simple and inadequate, so the next project was “the superstructure,” an expensive aluminum construct designed to support sets, lighting, sound, and off-stage areas. This kicked off another round of fundraisers to raise the necessary 250K-500K.

As it turned out, the acoustics were poor — not good at all for an expensive, solid stone amphitheater. The intended orchestra pit below the front of the stage swallowed sound and was deemed unusable. It was nicknamed “the alligator pit” and was later covered over. Acoustic surfaces were built to project sound out from the stage, and more expensive sound systems had to be purchased. For ballet performances, a special floor of specific size was needed. The stage size was expanded and the expensive floor was built. As the project cost ballooned, residents grew increasingly weary, and wary, of the endless fundraisers.

RB’s seat at the Theatron was chosen by a favored consultant to be ‘the best’. Ticket prices for assigned seats were skewed based more or less on their proximity to the teacher’s seat. A large block of seats surrounding RB’s was reserved for his entourage and other chosen ones. I often had the thought, “bread and circuses”.

The Theatron was built ‘on the sly’, away from the prying eyes of building inspectors. RB, in his hubris, considers himself to be above the ‘level of life’ and essentially unanswerable to authorities. His ‘MO’ was to go full steam ahead on a project, and then sort out the details later. It’s true that the Theatron was once camouflaged with palm plants to hide it from a scheduled inspection of the property.

But we live in the age of Google Earth, and it couldn’t be kept hidden for long. At one point, inspectors shut down the Theatron completely until a goodly number of code violations could be resolved. Many non-student residents of OH went ballistic when they heard about this new theater. They complained of the increasing and sometimes high-density traffic on the narrow road leading to the Fellowship property. Eventually, things calmed down and regular performances resumed.

This story has already become too long. My apologies. While there were admittedly many amazing performances at the Theatron, I do agree with other posters that its construction was and is emblematic of the steady streams of hubris, greed, narcissism, exploitation, and corruption within the organization.

'Wondering Who's Watching" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 29, 2011:
181. My2Bits – August 29, 2011 [responding to above post]:

‘His ‘MO’ was to go full steam ahead on a project, and then sort out the details later.’

This is in keeping with his [Robert Earl Burton] ‘fire, aim, ready’ style of management; as compares with the normal orientation of ‘ready, aim, fire,’ that most people use. Or, in other words, of wild west origin, ‘shoot first, ask questions later.’

The seating capacity was in excess of the entire membership of the Fellowship of Friends (FoF) (BeingPresent.org, Pathway to Presence, Living Presence, Church of Robert Earl Burton) – certainly more than all those members who lived in Oregon House and Northern California combined; plus their families and friends. The size rivaled the sports/speedway venue, that was constructed, about the same time, in the south Yuba County area nearest the Sacramento metropolitan area. (I had never been to see that facility. ‘the lack of opposition to plans to build a speedway and amphitheater in southern Yuba County is extraordinary — but no more extraordinary than the fact that this $90 million development is pegged for one of California’s poorest counties.’ 1April1999 – Yuba County Indy and NASCAR racetrack.) It was mind boggling where the audiences would come from to fill this theatron, given that it was not open to the public, by FoF design. Then, of course, there was the problem of traffic and access, as well as parking – all needing to meet public safety standards – not to mention what the non-FoF neighbors might think about it. The winery, under construction for decades, was not properly permitted at various times, let alone ‘temporary use permitted’ for how it was being used. Robert Earl Burton’s residence, I hear tell, was built with a garage addition permit to a mobile home site, the Blake Cottage. How was this going to be any different?

Also worthy of mention: The construction was the equivalent of a giant solar energy collector dish. Since it was facing east with little or no shade, the sun shined on it all day and it reradiated the heat from the stone for many hours after shadow fell on the seating areas. With an outdoor venue used mainly in the summer, this place was going to be hot in the evenings when performances would take place – even worse during the day, when workers and performers needed to make preparations. Most events required formal attire of those attending or serving.

Then there was the problem of not having appropriate drainage for the place. That caused water to collect in various areas in the rainy season. This caused unwanted stuff to grow on the near brilliant white stone. But, worse, with freezing temperatures in the winter, the softish limestone was caused to delaminate from the repeated ice/thaw cycling that took place.

Most of the professional workers employed on the project refused to acknowledge that they had anything to do with it for fear they would lose their licenses by working on a non-permitted project.

No matter what the county or locals wanted, FoF could not be stopped from using it, right?

None of these things mattered, of course. The important thing was to raise the money (so appropriate ‘skimming’ could be done) and to get it done.

From ‘Self-Remembering’ – by Robert Earl Burton:
‘The last words of Peter Ouspensky were, 'Aim, aim; more effort, more effort.'"
Theatron
Definition: In general, the theatron was where the audience of a Greek tragedy sat to view the performance.
A theatron referred to the place where spectator looked at sacrifices, dances or theatrical performances. A theatron came to refer specifically to semi-circular, tiered, stone seats for viewing performances.
Theatron: Greek term for “place of seeing.” Thea: “view” + -tron, suffix, denoting place.
Wondering Who’s Watching

"Opus111" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 29, 2011:
The “theatron” was also known in local parlance as the white elephant, due in part to its appearance and the failed attempts at hiding it under the green rug.

It was really no secret at all to the locals that the construction was going on without permit. Imagine truckloads after truckloads of lime stone slabs crawling up the hill for months, with truck drivers happily sharing information about their destination with whomever might ask them at truck stops.

Once the county officials manage to catch FOF red handed, under the guise of a winery inspection, those officials were more than happy to plan for retribution for the many instances of hubris shown over the years by FOF, its leader and legal representatives. They first red-taped it indefinitely (emotional pain), then asked for costly improvements before it could re-open: new stage, railings, handicap access (FOF prefers to hide than give access to its handicapped) and toilet facilities (port-a-toilet was still the norm around the premises). I think they ultimately negotiated temporary and restricted usage before most of those improvements could be completed. Left unused and under the elements, the elephant started to show its flakes and wear, and ultimately grew weeds. Parenthetically, some of the more knowledgeable stone workers had warned that this particular stone would not endure the elements without some major finishing/cover/whathaveyou. However, Wayne M. [Wayne Mott], one of the favorite flying monkeys in charge, had the ear of the master and much of his hubris. The project continued to its current sad, flaky, preposterous state. Flaky and preposterous would indeed be an apt way to characterize the master and his various projects.

"Ames Gilbert" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 29, 2011:
X-Ray [blogger],

thanks very much for telling us more about the Theatron and your experiences working on it. I ‘Google Earthed’ it last night, and took a virtual tour of the property afterwards . . .

And thanks to all you others who added to the details and their understandings of this project. It would be laughable if it didn’t involve the suffering and injuries of so many. Talk about a monument to hubris and grandiosity! I guess none of the 44 knew anything about engineering, site preparation and acoustics worth passing on, nor did they trouble themselves to access to such knowledge on his behalf. Certainly Burton, who thinks any random thought that comes into his noggin must, by divine circular reasoning, be an objective message from ‘higher realms’, fancies himself a new ‘Renaissance man’, a polymath, expert in all things knowable.

This is yet another example of the actual level of Burton, and how he is unfit to teach anyone much of anything. He considers any random firing of neurons in his brain to be a valid ‘do’ or start of an octave. He starts giving orders, the followers work overtime to rationalize his spewings and convince themselves that crazy is the same as wisdom, and the result is something like the Theatron. Ironically, surrounded by another giant monument to his failures, the vineyard. And there, up on the hill, the never–to–be–finished winery, made with so much concrete that it would take a tactical nuclear weapon to remove it. How do the minions explain that monument to vainglory to themselves and visitors and performers? The fact is, Burton has no idea how to start, run or complete his undertakings in self–glorification. And he has no idea about the scale of maintenance and upkeep necessary to keep a project going after the initial completion. The way he organizes his external world is a valuable clue to how his internal world is structured. Crazy is as crazy does.

"Critical Mass" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, August 1, 2007:
Yes, the bistro (La Cucina) burnt down, no subterfuge there, it was probably caused by a cappuccino machine. The FOF received the insurance money, which just got swallowed up. Then 2006 saw the bistro fundraising. I can’t remember how much money was raised, but it was substantial, and a student was on salary specifically for the fundraising, and now she is fundraising for Robert’s personal funds. But then the FOF failed to meet the milestones dictated by the county, so the county started playing hardball and the FOF had to pay a $35000 fine. So the bistro project was abandoned.

I remember Robert announcing that Asaf was going to stay at Isis to teach and host events when Robert went to Egypt in Fall 2006. Asaf was beaming proudly. Then Robert announced that the reason Asaf was staying on at Isis was because the FOF needed to raise the extra funds for the county fine, and of course the events bring in money. You should have seen Asaf’s face.

So the theatron wasn’t usable. Now there are further fundraisers for a replacement stage for the theatron, one that will meet county standards. The proposed ballet is going to be held at the tennis courts next to the burnt out bistro instead. The FOF will surely cut corners with the legal requirements, so the county may as well have someone on hand for the first night of the tennis court ballet—there could be good money in it for the county. There was a recent email from Wayne Mott, an attempt at glasnost, that selectively detailed the history of the theatron project, reproduced below:-
(c) Wayne Mott 2007

After many years of work by a dedicated team of experts and non-experts alike, the Theatron has re-entered the construction phase that will bring it to its completion. The following is a short story of that process.

Back in January of 2005 we received a Conditional Use Permit from Yuba County for our Theatron. Since then we have been going through a process, stated simply, of creating a set of plans, having them approved and inspecting/testing the existing structure. The completion of this process would then allow us to continue with construction and finish what we had started in 2001.

In April of 2005 we submitted our first and admittedly not very complete set of plans. We followed that with a more complete set, Revision 1, by the end of May that same year. This was really the beginning of a learning process that kept us scrambling for the next couple of years. With the help of building code analysts we learned about how to deal with the many elements that would help us finish the project.

By February 2006 we were ready with Revision 2 of the plans, more or less. We were sure that there would be a lot more work to do but we began to hire the necessary help. We hired an engineer to design the waste system for the bathrooms. We then hired the same lighting engineer that did the design for the Sleep Train Amphitheater in Marysville with all its emergency lighting and backup systems, and also a fire system engineer for the hydrants and under stage sprinkler system. All of this was done to prepare Revision 3 which we submitted on June 30th 2006.

Our code analysts came and went as well as the staff at the Yuba County Community Development Department. As most of the staff that we had worked with moved on to neighboring counties we hired the person that we had worked with at the building department as our last code analyst. He knew the project well and was a great help in finishing off the last details.

After a few of weeks of review and minor corrections we finally received our approved set of plans, 50 pages of architectural, engineering, electrical, fire, handicapped access, site plans, indexes, etc… And in another week we had our building permit.

This allowed us to move to the next phase in the process. We had to verify that what was built was the same as what was indicated on the approved set of plans. After having our engineers submit an inspection proposal to the county, we began a program of testing. The independent testing company examined a random sampling of exposed footings and soil conditions. They also used a radar scanning technique and core drilling of the walls and footings to verify the reinforcing steel. After this was done a report from the independent testing company and our engineers was sent to and approved by the Yuba County Building Department. That brings us to where we are now.

The first part of the new construction will be to rebuild the stage in a waterproofed concrete which will then have a wooden surface constructed on top. The stage was the only major part of what we had constructed which was open to question. The weathering was already beginning to show on the existing wood structure. It was designed before the project took on the dimension that it has today. We had the possibility of re-building parts of the stage that needed replacing with a different kind of wood but decided unanimously that a concrete structure was more in keeping with the rest of the Theatron and would better serve future generations.

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