Monday, December 26, 2011

Clifton's Garden of Meditation

Patrons who visited Clifton's Cafeteria on Olive Street after it opened in 1931 wouldn't have missed a small sign, as they carried their trays to cashier stations to pay for their meals. The sign read, "Food for the soul is important too."

Later, a small pamphlet called "Food for Thot" could be found in a metal holder on tables. The booklet offered inspirational phrases, Biblical passages, and poetry.

Hofmann's Christ In Gethsemane (CC_Wiki)
Perhaps the most elaborate expression of Clifford Clinton’s Christian message came with the creation of the Garden of Meditation in the basement of the cafeteria in 1943. Clifford constructed four inter-connected rooms to dramatize the story of Christ on the eve of his crucifixion. The rooms--a reception area, grotto, well court, and corner of the Garden of Gethsemane--were meant as a potent reminder of the power of Christian faith in turbulent times.

Clifford spent $80,000 to construct the display during an eight-month period. From its opening to the public in 1943 to 1960, an estimated 7 million people visited the garden.

Visitors entered the garden from cafeteria’s ground floor and descended a stairway to enter the reception area, where they were greeted by three female attendants dressed in the period attire of First Century Galilee. Period-authentic oil lanterns hung from the ceiling.

Next, a rocky grotto offered up bench seating and an inspirational audio program called “The Influence of One Life,” a reading of an original essay written by Clifford and publicist Ernest Chamberlain. A third room was a Well Court, providing the “waters of life.”

In the fourth room was a corner of the Garden of Gethsemane referenced in the New Testament. It was here that Jesus prayed the night before the crucifixion. In this room, Clifford constructed a life-size statue of Christ kneeling on a rock, praying. The image was inspired by Heinrich Hofmann’s painting Christ In Gethsemane (1890).

Clifford first viewed the painting while working for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) in New York City. He discovered the painting hanging in a small chapel in the Riverside Church near Harlem, where it can be still viewed today.

The feelings he experienced while viewing this painting inspired him to re-create this experience in his own cafeteria in Los Angeles. Many individuals travelled from all over the world to visit Clifton’s meditation garden and many wrote to tell of the profound influence this had on them. 

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