| In 1941 Elizabeth Chapin Patterson and Princess Norina Matchabelli, early disciples of Meher Baba, were sent by him to establish a center for his work in the United States. After three years of searching for the right location, they were finally successful.
In June of 1944, Elizabeth wrote a long letter to Baba, describing the land she had secured for his center and reviewing the events that had led up to this gift. She wrote: You gave five qualifications for the land, but did not say where the location should be in this country. They were: the place must have an equitable climate; virgin soil; ample water; soil that could be made self-sustaining to a large number of people; and the property should be given from the heart.
She recounted her visits with Norina to the west coast in search of land that would meet Meher Babas criteria. Each location they visited proved to be unsuitable because it did not meet one or more of the five he listed. In particular the requirement for virgin (previously uninhabited) soil excluded many otherwise beautiful places. It was land belonging to her father, Simeon Chapin, and some of his business partners that eventually met all the criteria Baba had stipulated. It
was given by her father to Elizabeth who then gave it to Baba from the heart.
Immediately work was begun to prepare the Centers virgin forest, marsh, and wetlands for Meher Babas visit, which everyone assumed would be soon. Conditions at that time were quite primitive. Darwin Shaw describes life on the Center in the 1940s when the very first small buildings were built or moved onto the Center land: The kitchen, about six feet square in area, was equipped with a propane
stove. The refrigerator consisted of a wooden box tied with rope and set down into the cool lake. A well with a hand pump was installed. There was no electricity for quite a while, because during wartime new electrical lines were not permitted. We had to use kerosene lanterns and flashlights at night. There were lots of bugs and snakes, as well as poison ivy and poison oak to contend with. For years everyone was required to wear high boots. Insect repellent and bush axes were
a part of our daily defense equipment.
Cabins, also given from the heart, were built or purchased and moved to the Center by the early workers. Each was carefully located in order to protect the trees and the ecology of the Center as much as possible.
By the time Meher Baba finally arrived for his first stay on the Center in April of 1952, it was possible to accommodate and feed those traveling with him as well as some of those who came from all over America to meet him. He was to visit the Center again in 1956 and 1958, each time offering both his new and old followers the unique experience of his presence. The length of
Meher Babas stays at the Center ranged from 6 days to one month. Elizabeth reports that during his visits 50 could stay on the Center, but Baba sometimes insisted that all 250-300 guests staying in the vicinity who had come to see him should eat on the Center so they would not be made to feel outsiders in any way. Each detail of every guests experience was attended to personally by Baba.
Two of those who met him in 1956, Ralph and Stella Hernandez, say they had no idea what to expect but each remembers their first glimpse of Meher Baba near the Original Kitchen as clearly as if it were happening now. Ralph recalls, At that moment when I saw him, I was taken aback by his beauty,
his color and his flashing eyes,...he took my breath away. Stella says, I was in a daze...I felt like lightning had hit me...I dont know how to describe it...a lot of light and this emotion going right through me. Such are the reports of Meher Babas impact on those who came to see him during his visits to the Meher Center.
It was during his last visit, in 1958, that Meher Baba directed that the Center be preserved in perpetuity. He later approved the Charter, which had been drawn up according to his instructions, making the Center a non-profit religious corporation governed by a Board of Directors.
As he prepared to leave the Center at the end of this visit, he told those present that he would not be returning. Elizabeth recalled that this prompted her to ask him, Then who can come to the Center and stay here? He replied through hand gestures, All those who love and follow me and those who know of me and want to know more.