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Once-Notorious '60s Commune Evolves Into Respectability : After 19 Years the Lyman Family Prospers as Craftsmen and Farmers

August 04, 1985|DAVID JOHNSTON | Times Staff Writer

Today they are prosperous builders who remodel homes for the stars, the 117 members of a notorious '60s commune who a decade ago wrote off the rest of the world as hopelessly corrupt and withdrew so completely that they adopted their own calendar to number the years.

They are the Lyman Family, an eclectic band of musicians, artists, writers, philosophy students and psychic explorers who comprise one of the few '60s communes to survive the era.

The 60 adults have stuck together for 19 years, evolving from poverty, drugs and even a bank robbery into an unusual version of familial joy with 49 children, 10 of whom are now adults. There are eight other young adults who have joined the Family in recent years after growing up elsewhere.

They have taken a different, and yet in may ways parallel, path from the rest of America. They believe that their success in raising charming and studious children shows that their unique life style is worthy of examination.

Unusual Magazine

Now they are coming back into the world, publishing an unusual magazine without ads or credit lines, called U and I, to explain themselves. They are hoping for the ultimate in their vision of success, hoping the rest of America will recognize their accomplishments and perhaps even emulate their life style.

Prosperous today because of their industriousness and a small fortune inherited by one of their leaders, the Lymans own two Hollywood Hills mansions worth at least $4 million, with formal gardens, a peaceful stone pond filled with koi, a swimming pool and a classroom for the children. There is a huge underground garage where they keep their old white Lincoln limousine, two sports cars and a luxurious recreational vehicle, and surrounding all of this is a high brick and mortar wall.

They also own a scenic 280-acre Kansas farm, a Manhattan loft, a hilltop compound of eight residences above Boston's poor Roxbury section and a Martha's Vineyard retreat, plus three deep-sea pleasure fishing boats.

In all they own 20 homes, each filled with Victorian furniture and dozens of paintings by their benefactor, Thomas Hart Benton, and their own artists. Their Hollywood Hills homes feature a small museum celebrating American history. Another room holds thousands of old recordings dating to 1902, each packed in a protective sleeve in case of an earthquake.

Picture of Rudy Vallee

A framed letter from the late Henry Miller hangs on one wall above an elegant old pool table. A picture of Rudy Vallee, whose singing the Lymans adore, hangs on another wall. A 1955 calendar featuring Marilyn Monroe stretching on an expanse of red satin adorns one room.

They dress casually, even sloppily, the men often in blue-collar work clothes. Some of the men say they do not own even one suit.

Master craftsmen, the Lymans remodel homes for actors Dustin Hoffman and Richard Chamberlain, producers Steven Spielberg and Larry Gelbart and others made rich by Hollywood.

Their own homes reflect extraordinary craftsmanship. In one Kansas farmhouse the wooden banister's finial is a delicate carving of a nude woman. Lavish rugs that one of the women hooks enhance the Hollywood Hills mansions.

The word commune evokes images of free love or, at least, casual relationships. But the Lyman Family has evolved strong values about marriage and sex, mixing traditionalism with the practical needs of their life style.

Typical Marriages

Marriages typically last three to seven years, but there is no divorce, in their view, because when a couple breaks up, they only stop sharing the same bed. Former couples are expected to maintain an enduring emotional relationship.

Having many homes in five cities means that if the strain of getting along is too much, though, a couple who break up can live in different cities until time heals their wounds.

Adultery, a serious social offense, is unheard of. The singles among them are celibate. Homosexuals are not welcome, they say.

The Lymans, a strikingly attractive group, believe women should wait on men. The women raise the children communally and, until last year, most of the children were educated at home.

None of them are alcoholics, drugs are rarely used anymore and only two members are in psychotherapy, family leaders say.

All of this, they say, indicates that their life style works better than that followed by most Americans.

Most evenings, after an early supper for the children and main adult dinner at 9 p.m., guitarist Jim Kweskin of the Jug Band, a popular '60s folk group whose members included singer Maria Muldaur, and other musicians gather in the parlors of whichever homes they are then living in and play their own music.

Sometimes they talk about their visions of Emerson and Thoreau, Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, Woody Guthrie and other great men they count as heroes, their conversations fading only with the ink in the sky.

Model Students

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