Los Angeles has no shortage of stunning libraries. From Glendale’s strikingly Moorish Brand Library to the handsome wood-paneled Ella Strong Denison Library at Scripps College in Claremont to USC’s cathedral-like Hoose Library of Philosophy, the list seems to go on and on! But there is one gorgeous athenaeum that has somehow managed to fly largely under the radar. A true hidden gem, mention the Philosophical Research Society to most Angelinos and they likely won’t have any idea what you’re talking about. However, location managers have certainly managed to take note of the place over the years!
Located on a bustling Los Feliz corner about half a mile west of the 5 Freeway at 3910 Los Feliz Blvd., the metaphysical research facility was the brainchild of Manly Palmer Hall, a Canadian-born mystic, author, free thinker and purveyor of all things spiritual. His interest in ancient religions was piqued upon migrating to Los Angeles at the age of 18 in 1919 and befriending phrenologist Sydney Brownson who introduced him to Hinduism, Greek philosophy and mysticism. An avid reader and researcher with photographic recall, Hall, as the Los Angeles Times notes, “Furthered his studies of ancient religions and soon was speaking at the Church of the People downtown. By 1920, only 19 years old, he was running the church and delivering Sunday lectures about Rosicrucianism and Theosophy, the mystical philosophical system founded by Madame Helena Blavatsky, as well as the teachings of Pythagoras, Confucius and Plato.”
Manly eventually became an author himself, publishing an incredible 200 books throughout his lifetime, including “An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy,” aka “The Secret Teachings of All Ages,” a 1928 tome that L.A. Weekly deemed “the definitive guide to spiritual thinking.”
He, of course, also acquired legions of followers along the way, including such luminaries as John Denver and Bela Lugosi, and raked up scores of accolades. The Times reported, “For his writings alone he was made an honorary 33rd-degree Freemason (the highest honor), and even Elvis was a fan, sending Priscilla Presley to one of the world-renowned orator’s lectures because he was afraid of getting mobbed himself.”
Though considered an icon, Hall did not seek adulation, unlike so many spiritual gurus both past and present. In a 1942 essay, he instead cautioned against such idolatry, writing, “All followers who offer to adorn and deify their teachers set up a false condition. Human beings, experience has proved, make better humans than they do gods.”