Disciples of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh will gather for the last time at their meditation center in Laguna Canyon today, then step aside to make way for a child day-care center at the five-acre compound.
The Utsava Rajneesh Meditation Center, at times a center of controversy, was sold in August to Paul and Anneliese Schimmelpfennig of Laguna Beach, reportedly for about $900,000.
Anneliese Schimmelpfennig, who operates a day-care center in Laguna Beach and a preschool in South Laguna, has applied for a license to operate a day-care center at the site for 100 or more children, her husband said. He said she has operated day-care centers in Orange County for more than 20 years.
The meditation center, which is located just outside the Laguna Beach city limits, was the last remaining commune in the United States for followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
He was arrested on charges of immigration fraud and deported to his native India last year. Soon afterward his headquarters, a ranch in Oregon that was home to 3,000 of his followers, was closed and much of his property, such as a fleet of Rolls-Royce automobiles, jewelry and expensive fabrics, was auctioned.
The Laguna Canyon center usually housed about 20 followers but attracted hundreds more.
It belonged to the Church of Religious Science before Rajneesh followers took over the congregation. The Church of Religious Science sued to recover the property but lost in Superior Court in 1982.
Transfer of Institute
Katherine Burd, a member of the Institute for Dehypnotherapy that rented space at the meditation center, said the institute will be transferred to 55 wooded acres in Santa Cruz. The institute is separate from the Rajneesh operations, she said.
After the center closes, Rajneesh followers will meet as usual on Sundays but alternately at a private home in Laguna Beach and a sound studio in Long Beach, Burd said. She said that the usual Sunday activities will take place at the meditation center this morning and afternoon but that a farewell party will be held tonight beginning at 7. Belly dancers will entertain, she said.
Paul Schimmelpfennig said his wife will not do much to the meditation center in converting it to a day-care center. "She's not going to change the exterior structure. Some minor partitions will be put up, some remodeling. The grounds will remain the same. . . . It's heavily wooded; there's a stream, little bridges--quite a unique environment for children," he said.
He said his wife expected to have the day-care center open "by at least Dec. 1."
He said that despite the Rajneesh controversy and despite "always looking over our shoulders thinking someone might want to attach the property or something," the sale went smoothly.
"Given all of the legalities and controversies involved with the Rajneesh, we were somewhat apprehensive about closing the deal," he said.