Inner Beauty Salon
Carol Soucek King has been hosting a salon on spirituality in her Pasadena home for 20 years.
|<b>March 28, 2016</b> - Beneath the 134 Freeway bridge spanning the Arroyo, a wonderful assemblage of people have gathered at Arroyo del Rey, the home of Carol Soucek and Richard King, for insights and intellectual stimulation for more than twenty years.<b></b> -|
What’s more, we don’t get many invites to salons these days. Our last one was an evening event hosted by Arianna Huffington at her Westside home in her pre-HuffPo days. It featured Norman Mailer, Christopher Hitchens and a gaggle of alcohol-infused writers milling around and talking mostly about themselves. Today’s salon promised coffee, tea and pastries at 9:30 a.m. and a program of uplifting spiritual thought starting at 10.
To reach Arroyo del Rey, as the two-acre King estate is called, we drove through iron gates down a road ending at the edge of the Arroyo Seco. We parked and looked up. Way up. All our preconceived notions of ugly bridges and those who live under them were instantly banished. We were beneath a soaring, majestic concrete arch — a cream-color construct that spans the arroyo and defies imagination in its immensity and muscular grace. Readers who have hiked this part of the Arroyo Seco trail are familiar with it. We hadn’t and were surprised that no traffic noise could be heard below. The King home is not directly beneath the arch, but just a few steps uphill, where our hostess, elegant and vivacious with cropped hair, was greeting guests. Her dark ensemble was brightened by a flowing red chiffon scarf and a puffy silver heart dangling from her neck.
The salon didn’t disappoint. About 30 participants had come prepared to say a few words about the day’s subject: Growth in the Garden. Each spoke briefly, and often profoundly, about the literal and metaphorical aspects of their own spiritual growth as it relates to the gardens in their lives.
“There is nothing anywhere across the U.S. that does what we do in that room on Sundays,” interior designer Ron Fields told Arroyo Monthly after the salon. “It’s always a unique mix of fascinating people from different walks of life, different professions, from big shots to students — all with creative, inspiring thoughts to share. There is nothing that gets near the exchange of passions we share about about the lives we lead. It’s uplifting, it’s interesting, it’s fun.”
Other participants that day included Ingrid Aall, a Cal State Long Beach professor emerita in cross-cultural studies; Yoshito “Super” Yamaguchi, founding chairman of Sennet Inc. and former president of Mitsubishi Electric, America; Lenore Wong, fashion designer; Valerie Summers, editor of Southern California Guide; Mary Winterfield, artist/professor at Art Center College of Design; Sunny Chen, president of Sunny International Exchange; Juliana Pratiwi, a dancer visiting from Bali; Ruth Weisberg, artist, professor and former dean of USC Roski School of Fine Arts; Shelley Stockwell-Nicholas, president, International Hypnosis Federation; Lynn Smart Neutra and architect-husband Dion Neutra (son of the late eminent SoCal architect, Richard Neutra), founder of The Neutra Institute; Paul Gamberg, an investor/entrepreneur and his wife Joan, an artist, ceramicist and jewelry designer; Crosby Doe, CEO of the eponymous real estate firm specializing in important architects; and Miller Yee Fong, an architect, furniture designer and artist, who illustrated Carol Soucek King’s 2012 book about the salon, Under the Bridges at Arroyo del Rey: The Salon on the Spiritually Creative Life.
Her husband, Richard King, closed the meeting as he has for the past 20 years, with a Native American prayer: “Do all the good you can/With all the means you can/In all the ways you can/To all the people you can/As long as you can.”
Carol Soucek King started the salon in January 1997, inviting one friend to speak to others from her circle. Word spread, and soon friends of friends starting asking to come; some offered to speak. Her good friend, author Ray Bradbury, spoke the first year and every year thereafter until his death in 2012, she says. “I never asked him. He always called and said, ‘It’s time for me speak again.’” She has welcomed authors, professors, artists, architects, archaeologists, technology and business experts, poets and craftspeople, she says. Their focus is never on the “what” or the “how” of their work, but on the “why” of it — the positive spirit and inspiration that guides them. Husband Richard, an authority on U.S.–Pacific Rim business relations and founder of the King International Group, participates in the salons and has spoken on spirituality, morals and ethics in the workplace.
Carol’s definition of the spiritually creative life can’t be glibly explained, she says. “The word ‘spiritual’ has been overused, and by now sounds very oohy-aahy,” she says. She emphasizes creating a more meaningful existence through thought that resists the superficial and negative; instead one should focus on the powerful positive effects of love, reverence for nature, harmony, peace and belief in the interconnectedness of everything on the planet.
This year, she says, she’s not having speakers because she wants to return to topics the group has already discussed. Her emailed invitation states this year’s themes, which are also the chapter headings in her salon book. She writes that “the book uses the experience of creating one’s own physical home as a metaphor for all of us discovering our own real dwelling in love and understanding.” She is quick to add that a magical physical environment like hers is not essential for spiritual inspiration. “Even in a one-room cell, one can have dominion,” she says.
But how exalting to muse in such a spectacular setting. In a phone chat prior to our visit, we’d asked how she and Richard had selected such an unusual place. “We were married in 1976 and wanted to build a house,” says Soucek King. “I wanted a one-room cabin in the forest.” Richard agreed they should build a simple, rustic place that would tread lightly on the land. But finding vacant, affordable residential land in Pasadena was difficult even in the 1970s, she says, and finding a forest was impossible. “We met with our wonderful architects, Conrad Buff and Donald Hensman, whose work we had seen and loved, and asked what they could build for us on a budget. They showed us properties that were beautiful and manicured and frightfully expensive. I said, ‘I just want something rustic and wild.’ That’s all I’ve wanted ever since I was a girl. They knew of some land under the bridges they’d been interested in, but none of their clients had ever wanted it. It sounded very strange at the time. We went there, walked out on that land under the bridges, and I remember it as if it was yesterday. I looked up at Richard, almost embarrassed because nobody else liked this property, and I said, ‘I love it. I just love it.’”
The land was secluded and wild, encircled by old stone walls, surrounded by parkland and bordered by a meandering creek. To the Kings and their visionary architects, the giant 134 Freeway arches and those of the historic Colorado Street Bridge a little farther south, provided a dramatic yet protective backdrop to the land below, Soucek King says. The property owner in Northern California was delighted to get rid of it, and told them to name their price.
The process of building and living in their home, and the lasting friendship she and her husband enjoyed with the architects, was what ultimately led her to start the spiritual gatherings she’d been pondering for years, says Soucek King. “I always thought that someday I would have my own church or school, my own higher education place,” she says. “That was part of my drive to get a Ph.D., so I’d be prepared.” In 1975, while discussing her deferred dream with Hensman, she says, he made her realize “I had the place right here, in this serene haven in the midst of nature. It was built as a place to read and write and have people over for thoughtful discussions. I had spent years visiting and writing about the great homes of the world, but I have never wanted to live anywhere else.” The couple plans to bequeath Arroyo del Rey in perpetuity to USC School of Architecture, which will name it The Carol Soucek King and Richard King Center for Architecture, Arts and Humanities.
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