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International Headquarters Retrofit & Rehabilitation Project

International Headquarters and Cable Car Buildings

Originally constructed in 1909 as the Mount Washington Hotel, the building was acquired by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1925, and he established the Self-Realization Fellowship International Headquarters there. Due to the cultural significance of the site, it was listed as a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument in 2006.

The SRF International Headquarters Building has been well cared for over the years. However, it was originally constructed with an unreinforced masonry foundation—a method that is no longer permitted under current building codes as it is unable to withstand seismic activity in Southern California.

 

The building requires substantial seismic and life-safety upgrades, and other vital improvements to the building and surrounding grounds, such as:​​

  • Replacing foundations and providing essential infrastructure

  • Addressing the instability of the hillside surrounding the historic buildings

  • Installing required fire and life-safety upgrades

  • Implementing sustainability measures to conserve energy and water

  • Improving access to the IHQ building and gardens for residents, neighbors, and visitors, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Significant care will be given to preserving historically relevant features of the building. Paramount is the preservation of Paramahansa Yogananda’s living quarters. A special exhibit room on the first floor will be dedicated to portraying the story of Paramahansa Yogananda’s remarkable life and historic mission through creative interactive exhibits, and inspiring displays of artifacts and personal items.

One of the most respected firms specializing in rehabilitation of historic buildings in Southern California, Pfeiffer Partners Architects, will oversee the project. Among their most well-known accomplishments are the renovation of the Griffith Observatory and the Los Angeles Central Library. 

Plans for the International Headquarters Building focus on five main initiatives:

1. Essential Seismic Upgrades

Repeated earthquakes have challenged the long-term integrity of the International Headquarters Building over its more than 100-year span. Retrofitting of its foundation and support structure is required to preserve it for future generations.  

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Repair work of fireplace in IHQ Main Hall after the chimney collapsed in the 1971 Sylmar earthquake

The building was originally constructed in 1909 with an unreinforced masonry foundation. While this method was common at the time, it is no longer permitted under current building codes, as it is unable to withstand seismic activity in Southern California.

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Building rests on unreinforced masonry foundation

Our plans include replacement of the unreinforced masonry with a concrete foundation, all within the original footprint of the building.

Aside from a new foundation, the building needs additional reinforcement to withstand future earthquakes, so structural elements will be added to the walls, floors, and roof to provide strength. These elements will not be visible once the rehabilitation is complete.

2. Additional Fire-Safety Upgrades

The retrofit will also include the installation of a sprinkler system (a first in the lifetime of the building) and a new fire alarm system.

3. Accessibility

We will improve ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) access with the addition of a new ramp to the entry porch, and a new elevator providing access to the second and third floors.

4. Upgrades to Building Infrastructure

The existing electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems within the International Headquarters Building have exceeded their life cycle and will be replaced as part of the project. To make better use of the space within the building, primary mechanical equipment will be located in a new mechanical plant. A new utility tunnel will route lines from this central plant up to the International Headquarters Building.

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Original cast iron pipes which cracked (arrows) and had to be replaced

As the International Headquarters Building undergoes the seismic retrofit, all changes and upgrades to the building will meet current codes, including the recently updated California Energy Code.

5. Preservation of Historic Features

Significant care will be given to preserving historically relevant features of the building. Paramount is the preservation of Paramahansa Yogananda’s living quarters, commonly referred to as the “Shrine Rooms,” in line with the Smithsonian Institution’s standards for material preservation.

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Paramahansa Yogananda’s sitting room in the International Headquarters Building, one of the Shrine Rooms on the third floor

Architectural features considered historically significant will be preserved in the main hall, chapel, and library.

In addition, a special exhibit room in another area on the first floor will be dedicated to telling the story of Paramahansa Yogananda’s remarkable life and historic mission through creative interactive exhibits, and inspiring displays of artifacts and personal items.

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Main Hall of the International Headquarters Building

Surrounding Grounds

The gardens adjacent to the construction areas will be replaced and improved as a result of required below-ground infrastructure and support improvements. 

Old garden and maintenance workshops will be replaced with new structurally sound ones that will also help stabilize the hillside as topsoil movement and tree root growth have compromised the existing structures, which were built on uncompacted fill. The Visitors’ Center building at the entrance to the site will also be enhanced to include a new entrance ramp and ADA restroom to meet accessibility requirements.

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On the surrounding grounds there will also be a Garden Shrine and a reconstructed Cable Car Building:

Cable Car Building

Garden Shrine

Our project also proposes to add a small Garden Shrine of about 500 square feet, to be located within the existing meditation gardens. It will be a special place of tribute to Paramahansa Yogananda.

Shortly after his passing in 1952, Paramahansa Yogananda’s body was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, where it has remained ever since. However, as was shared in the May-June 1952 issue of
Self-Realization magazine, this was considered temporary, "until arrangements can be made for its permanent enshrinement on the ... grounds of the SRF headquarters on Mt. Washington.” 

 

Our hope is that in future the Garden Shrine will be the final resting place for his body.

The Cable Car Building originally allowed visitors to access the Mount Washington Hotel from the bottom of the hill.  During its more than 100-year history, the building has served several different functions, including most recently as office space for SRF. As per consultation with the City’s Office of Historic Resources, reconstruction is required because the building has no foundation and extensive wood rot that is unrepairable and unsafe. Upon completion the Cable Car Building will be ADA compliant and inclusive of fully accessible rooms for the first time.  

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The Mother Center meditation gardens with the future Garden Shrine

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Garden Shrine rendering

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