History of Bodhi Tree

A Short History of the Original Bodhi Tree Bookstore.

The Bodhi Tree Bookstore was founded in 1970 (8585 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood, CA 90069) and closed after more than 41 years of business on December 31, 2011.

Melrose Avenue is one of the most colorful streets in West Hollywood. It is famous for its majestic blue and green Pacific Design Center, its modern art galleries, its glamorous eateries and its high fashion outlets. But in 1970, it was a quiet shady street lined with small, low key businesses and the property of the Pacific Design Center was a sprawling lumberyard. In July 1970 the Bodhi Tree Bookstore began life in this quiet neighbor hood offering a wide range of metaphysical and religious titles (see "photo history"). Its name comes from the "tree of enlightenment" under which Gautama sat in meditation until he achieved the state of grace that made him the Buddha. In a small area to the rear of the bookstore, grew a Ficus Religosa (bodhi tree), given to the Bodhi Tree Bookstore in the early 70s by a neighbor who grew it from a seed. At nearly three stories high, it provided inspiration, shade, and respite -- a place where staff gathered to talk, read or rejuvenate.

The founders of the Bodhi Tree Bookstore, Dan Morris, Stan Madson and Phil Thompson met and worked together in Aerospace at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica, California during the 1960s. They started reading books by D. T. Suzuki, and Alan Watts. They learned basic meditation by initiating into Transcendental Meditation and doing Buddhist meditation at Zen Center Los Angeles under the direction of Maizumi Roshi. They read the books and attended the public meetings of Jeddu Krishnamurti, who had a spiritual center in Ojai, California. Out of all of this, the idea of creating a new kind of bookstore and spiritual center begin to grow.

When The Bodhi Tree Bookstore started in 1970, Melrose Avenue was a quiet street, but it was at a time of sweeping challenges to society brought about by the Beat Generation, the Vietnam war, political assassinations, psychedelics, an innovative dynamic West-coast folk-rock music, flower children, hippies, and the Beatles. Along with these happenings, a spiritual community emerged which talked about a new, wonderful, fresh way to live infused by the “Wisdom of the Ages” or the “Perennial Philosophy” and one that could transform everything into beauty, light and love. This clarion call spoke to something within the minds of the founders so they dropped out of the Aerospace Engineering community and inaugurated the Bodhi Tree Bookstore. In those days, spiritual books were not readily available and their destiny was to gather them together and make them accessible to all. It was the right time and place and the Bodhi Tree Bookstore became a Mecca for all things spiritual. There was the sense that the wisdom contained in the books stocked by the store could transform not only oneself and the community but the entire society as well. Governments would mature and the entire cosmos would be different.

In late 1972, Dan Morris and his wife Marj Morris left the bookstore. Of the founding members, Fran and Stan Madson, and Elsa and Phil Thompson remained as active participants and managers.

The Bodhi Tree Bookstore grew into a flourishing landmark with its roots strongly grounded in the spiritual community. It is a way station for eclectic spirits -- for people interested in bridging the insights drawn from Eastern and Western religious and mystical literature. Inside, the store was a series of small, intimate rooms with wooden bookcases, and chairs for relaxed browsing. Lining the walls were pictures of authors, seers, sages, senseis, prophets, gurus, imams and rebbes benignly blessing all who pass within. Among the soothing sounds one could hears are the tinkling of chimes, the subtle strains of classical and world music mixed with the buzz of seeker’s conversations. There were pots of free herbal teas on a table in the center of the store and a container of free “mystery” incense on the front counter. In the book “Joy’s Way”, Brugh Joy mentioned experiencing a consciousness breakthrough while in the store. Many people have commented that the nature of the material found at The Bodhi Tree Bookstore and the sense of the physical space had helped them open into consciousness and find their place in the cosmos. For some people, it was a sanctuary from the outside world.

The original store was a stucco-clad, single story, two bedroom California bungalow, built in the 1920s, and converted to a storefront. For the first two years, from 1970 to 1973, it was called The Bodhi Tree Book and Tea Shop. In 1973 it became The Bodhi Tree Bookstore. It was at this time that Dan Morris along with his wife Marj Morris left the store, moving to the Northwest to pursue other interests. In 1978, the building next door at 606 Westbourne Avenue was acquired and the vital and treasured Bodhi Tree Used Book Branch came into being. In January 1994, The Bodhi Tree Bookstore acquired the adjacent storefront at 8383 Melrose Avenue. It has become an integral part of the Bodhi Tree experience as the meeting room for author readings and book signing events, and a wide variety of workshops including Reiki, psychics, travel programs, and metaphysical discourses. In June 2011, all used books and material were transferred from the Used Book Building into the New Books building. All books and material were now under one roof.

The Bodhi Tree Bookstore offered almost daily events or workshops in the Annex building. It was a large, comfortable room that seated approximately 65 people. “The Artist’s Way Workshop” conducted by Kelly Morgan was a popular ongoing twelve week lecture series. It draws on the work pioneered by Julia Cameron. The program designed for creative people in all walks of life integrates new habits with the spiritual path of the artist into ones daily routine using exercises and a supportive group to recover creative flow from excessive self-criticism, perfectionism, jealousy, limiting beliefs, addictions and other inhibiting blocks. Educator Roger Weir taught several cycles of his “Yoga of Civilization”. Weir was noted for his dynamic, broad-reaching cosmic lectures that range from the most esoteric spiritual teachings to the latest in scientific exploration while planting the seeds of dynamic personal transformation and nurturing self education. A Krishnamurti Study Group conducted monthly workshops, starting in 2002. They explored the work of J. Krishnamurti, one of the most influential and independent spiritual teachers of the 1900s, by showing one of his archived talks followed by a dialogue discussion.

Some of the notable authors who have made presentations at the Bodhi Tree Bookstore are Robert Aiken, Lynn Andrews, Brandon Bays, Melody Beattie, Samuel A. Berne, Evalyne Blau, Jeanne Elizabeth Blum, Ralph Blum, Peter Bogdanovich, Gregg Braden, Joan Borysenko, Sylvia Browne, John Daishin Buksbazen, Julia Cameron, Lucia Capacchione, Frijof Capra, Deepak Chopra, Sonia Choquette, Andrew Cohen, K.C. Cole, Phyllis Curott, David Deida, Dr. Masaru Emoto, Steven Farmer, Georg Feurstein, Shakti Gawain, Diane Goldner, Amit Goswami PhD, Graham Hancock, Thom Hartmann, Jeremy Hayward, Dr. Jean Houston, Laura Huxley, Susan Jeffers Ph.D., Jon Kabat-Zinn, Roger Kamenetz, Charlotte Kasl, Sam Keen, Daphne Rose Kingma, Amelia Kinkade, Jonathan Kirsch, Jack Kornfield, Stephen Levine, Bruce Lipton, Terence McKenna, Drunvalo Melchizedek, Franz Metcalf, Deena Metzger, Dan Millman, Thomas Moore, Melvin Morse, Robert Moss, Michael Murphy, Caroline Myss, Belleruth Naparstek, Thich Nhat Hanh, Jacob Needleman, Christiane Northrup, Robin Norwood, Judith Orloff, Gary Quinn, James Redfield, Rachel Remen MD, Don Miguel Ruiz, Kevin Ryerson, Sharon Salzberg, Leonard Shlain, Huston Smith, Lama Surya Das, Starhawk, Stewart & Janet Swerdlow, Ron Teeguarden, Maya Tiwari, Robert A. F. Thurman, Linda Noble Topf, Eckhart Tolle, James Van Praag, Alberto Villoldo PhD, Doreen Virtue PhD, David Viscott, Amy Wallace, Carlos Warter, Brian Weiss MD, Hank Wesselman, Marianne Williamson, Swain Wolfe and Meredith Young-Sowers. Several of the author presentations have been transcribed and can be accessed under "lecture transcripts".

By 1982, with approximately 18,000 titles, the Bodhi Tree Bookstore had grown to such an extent that the aisles were crammed leaving little room to stuff in another book, statue, candle or meditation bell. A major re-model and expansion of the existing building was started. The original building was retained but wings were added as well as a second floor. The store remained open throughout the nine months it took to complete construction, which meant moving everything five times and the entrance door three times. It was a time of controlled chaos. The result was a modernist rounded edge rectangle with a big, round window along with a pyramid skylight. Inside, if you looked closely, you could still see the original front porch and the oval window that overlooked the front lawn. These were now the portals to the West wing.

The Bodhi Tree Bookstore thought that more than doubling their size would provide enough room for a long time but an unforeseen event would trigger explosive interest in spirituality and unprecedented growth in spiritual material.

On a lazy Sunday afternoon in 1983, actress Shirley MacLaine wandered into the Bodhi Tree Bookstore and embarked on a journey that changed her life, the life of the bookstore and the spiritual life of mainstream America. She described her first and subsequent visits to the Bodhi Tree Bookstore in her book "Out on a Limb", in which she revealed her study and exploration of reincarnation, trance channeling and other metaphysical matters. From the publication of that book, and the television series that followed, spirituality went mainstream and the Bodhi Tree Bookstore became widely known.

Starting in the mid 1980s, new books on spirituality were pouring off the presses as every publisher strove to address the emerging interest in consciousness. The Bodhi Tree Bookstore by 2009 had a vast inventory of some 30,000 titles and a wide assortment of spiritual paraphernalia including everything and anything that could possibly be useful to a person who had embarked – or was about to embark—on the gestalt path to self-knowledge.

In 1986, the Bodhi Tree Bookstore introduced it first computer system using the Information Partner software initially developed by the Christian Bookseller Association and subsequently owned and maintained by IRT (Information Resource Technology). The first inventory system used by the Bodhi Tree Bookstore was a hand-written system utilizing the Kardex storage system. To convert from the hand inventory system required over one year of hand data entry. The original computer operating system was Dos based but is now Unix utilizing a group of PCs.

At one time, the Bodhi Tree Bookstore published a book review magazine with the first issue coming to life in late 1992. Dana LaFontaine and Mark Kenaston were the creators and first editors. Editorial assistant Mariam Angel played a major role.

The Book Review was 11 by 14 inches in format, printed on newsprint and 32 to 56 pages long. It contained feature articles by noteworthy authors, best seller lists, and short reviews of recently published books, CDs and video cassettes.

The Book Review started as a quarterly but eventually was published two times a year, in the Spring and Fall. At its peak, 40,000 copies of each issue were printed. About 50% were mailed out to customers and the other 50% given away to customers at the store.

In 1993, Dana LaFontaine left the Bodhi Tree Bookstore leaving Mark Kenaston as the sole editor. Then in 1994, Mark Kenaston departed and the primary editor of the book review became Stan Madson with co-editors James Culnan and Camilla Denton. Subsequent reviews were written by staff (both current and former), particularly Louise Avila, Ivy Camille Sharpe, Dana LaFontaine, and Cheryl Parker, as well as by the editors, James Culnan, Camilla Denton, and Stan Madson. Other review writers included Paul Austad, Sean Breheny, Jo Carey, Steven Konstantine, Margaret Malloy, Rose Z. Moonwater, Gretchyn Lenger, Kevin M. Maxwell, Lisa Stevenson, T. L. Krishna Streeter, William H. Stroup, and Lisa Tserling.

Many of the book and product reviews have been re-edited and appear on the Bodhi Tree web site. Several of the feature articles have also been re-edited and placed on the Bodhi Tree web site in “Lecture Transcripts”.

Publication of the Book Review ceased with the 2002 Fall issue. The last five issues of the Bodhi Tree Bookstore Book Review magazine (complete, including all pictures and advertising) have been archived as pdf files on the Bodhi Tree web site.

The Bodhi Tree Bookstore was a founding and participating member of the Los Angeles Times Book Fair. Inaugurated in 1996, the LA Times Book Fair has become one of the premium book fairs for the United States drawing large crowds. It features many well attended author presentations, hundreds of bookstore booths showing their wares, and several outdoor stages, with author readings and musical events. All the events are free (there is a charge for vehicle parking) but most author events require tickets (distributed free). A children’s book area is very popular with children and their families. The book fair is a two day event on Saturday and Sunday in the latter part of April. Originally held on the UCLA campus, starting in 2011, it moved to the USC campus. The Bodhi Tree Bookstore stopped participating in the Los Angeles Times Book Fair after 2008.

The City of West Hollywood is noted for its sense of adventure and originality to create and sustain a vibrant community. In 2002, they inaugurated the West Hollywood Book Fair. It is held in the fall in the West Hollywood Park and features author presentations, panel discussions, food booths, performance stages, and bookstalls. The Bodhi Tree Bookstore has had a booth at the book fair from the beginning until it closed in 2011.

Part of the special flavor of the Bodhi Tree Bookstore was its thoughtful and helpful staff. In these times of a rapidly changing book selling environment with its ever expanding superstores and online commerce, the Bodhi Tree Bookstore remained committed to helping individuals and the community come to an understanding of themselves and their relationship to all that is outside of themselves, and to participate in the process of self and social development.

In the community at-large, there are many signs of expanding interest and participation spiritual practice and ideas in spite of ongoing wars, mayhem, and other cruelties. Many people have a spiritual interest and practice that charges their daily life. And spiritual books have penetrated all aspects of society and are readily available from large and small general bookstores as well as online. As a people, we are growing from the confines of a habitual, institutional religiosity to one of personal, transformative, inspirational and visionary significance that embraces the Earth and the expanse of galactic space.  So one can remain hopeful for all creatures and things.

The Bodhi Tree Bookstore was successful in informing and spreading the word about the personal value of spiritual transformation. The popularity of the movement opened many avenues of access. No longer was the spiritual material only available in local specialty bookstores. Internet stores like Amazon were growing in scope and popularity and large bookstore chains such as Barnes and Noble and Borders installed large scale superstores in every major city throughout the United States that increasingly carried spiritual books. Because of this source dispersal, the Bodhi Tree Bookstore, starting in 1990, begin to experience a decrease in sales. The staff slowly decreased in size and to meet budget, the stock was decreased as well.

In 2009, a major financial crisis occurred in the United States and abroad, stocks decreased in value, unemployment and lowering home value triggered a steep financial decline. It also triggered a steep decrease in sales for the bookstore. Steps were taken to reduce overhead by eliminating all non-essential expenditures and as staff people terminated, their positions were not replaced but re-assigned. The bookstore found that the monthly deficit remained as decreases in sales seemed to match changes in staffing and expenditures. By the end of 2009, co-owners Phil Thompson and Stan Madson realized that the bookstore as it was currently operating could not pay its own way without significant changes in staffing, operating philosophy, style and content. A fundamental change in energy was needed. In early 2010, they decided to sell the buildings and property with a closing date of Escrow in November 2011. This move provided temporary financial relief. In addition, the co-owners decided to retire at the end of 2011. And so, after some 40 years, the business was for sale. Several prospective buyers expressed interest but by the end of 2011, most had rescinded their interest or did not meet Phil and Stan’s expectations. Starting in December 2011, the Bodhi Tree Bookstore initiated a closing sale starting at 20 percent discount. The discount was gradually increased throughout the month. On December 30 it was 80 per cent and on December 31, 2011, the last day of retail sales, the discount was 90 per cent.

Over 2000 people came the last day to express how much the store had helped them, transformed their lives, and perhaps even saved their lives. One woman told how she met her husband at the store when they found themselves both reaching for the same book. Several people talked about being brought to the store by their parents when they were children. Long time friend Marianne Williamson and her daughter Emma came to say so-long.. One of her first booksigning events was done at the Bodhi Tree Bookstore for her book A Return to Love and the transcript was published in the Bodhi Tree Book review magazine. Nancy Cooke de Herrera came by. The Bodhi Tree did a booksigning event with her several years ago for her book My Guru. For that event, she asked if a friend of hers could come and play his guitar. Her friend was Donovan! Ric Ruban was in the audience and from that relationship, Ric went on to produce a new Donavan recording called Sutras.

When the closing day was over, the store was left with just 200 books. These remaining books were given away. This was also the last day for most of the Bodhi Tree staff. The store posted closing time was 5:30 pm but the last customer did not leave until after 7 pm. After closing, the staff gathered together for a last party.

Near the end of December 2011, a buyer for the business emerged that had the vision, energy and resources to purchase the Bodhi Tree Bookstore assets and the intent to open an enhanced and expanded store in a new location. Plans were put into motion to find a property for the new location somewhere in the Hollywood, West Hollywood area. The new store is planned to open in the latter part of 2013 or early in 2014.

During January 2012, The Bodhi Tree Bookstore was dismantled. About half of the staff stayed on to complete the task. All the bookcases (about 130), furniture, showcases, the 300 or so framed pictures, exterior signs, the large stained glass mandala from the front window, and the computer equipment were put into storage. Nothing had been discarded for 41 years so several containers of old files went into re-cycling along with obsolete computer equipment. The store cat, Lucia, went to live with Neisha, the long-time Bodhi Tree Bookstore office manager.

By the end of January 2012, all the buildings were empty. There was a serene, Zen like feeling to the empty spaces. On the last day in the buildings, January 28, 2012, several staff people came to the store. Food and drink was ordered from Urth Caffe and everyone sat together on the floor and talked about the good, funny and sometimes weird Bodhi Tree experiences. Everyone knew this gathering was for the last time but all felt that there would be more in the not too distant future.

To find out about the future new Bodhi Tree Bookstore, where it may be, when it may start up, and what it will consist of, ask to be put on the Bodhi Tree email list or its Facebook listing. The Bodhi Tree Bookstore email address is: bodhitree@bodhitree.com

    An Original art work commissioned by DeVorss & Co, a long time wholesale supplier and friend of the Bodhi Tree Bookstore.

© 1970-2014 by Bodhi Tree Bookstore. All rights reserved.