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Suburban Sex, Purple People

February 21, 2011
 

Cindy and Vic Baranco

 Part 1 of 2 parts
 

 Sometime last year my son Isaiah came home and told me there was a “Purple People” sex cult in neighboring Lafayette, CA. Yep, he said, a racy private community with a guard who chased away prying outsiders. That was the buzz at high school anyway.

 I figured the story was just typical adolescent boy blather blown out of proportion. Lafayette may not be the straightest suburb in America, but it probably gets votes for the Top 10. Sure it’s a bedroom suburb, but could it be that kind of bedroom suburb? We’re talking about million dollar homes, top public schools, a hardware store and a beautiful new public library. You’d expect to find Marcia Brady—not Lady Chatterley—in Lafayette.
 
 Turns out, Isaiah was right; I was wrong. Probing the Internet, I learned that since 1968, Lafayette has been home to Lafayette Morehouse, a commune—they bristle at the term “cult”—of purple homes whose residents drive around in old purple limos on about 20 acres off Purson (shouldn’t it be Purple?) Lane. Their stated philosophy is “Responsible Hedonism”—“the pursuit of pleasure as the highest goal,” but with a concern for the pleasure of others, not just oneself (hence “responsible”).
 
To earn greenbacks to support a purple lifestyle, Lafayette Morehouse offers courses to the public on topics its members purport to know well after boning up on them for many years: Communication, intimacy, sensuality, sexuality and group living. After all, this is the commune that lays claim to the first known public demonstration (1976) of a woman in a state of orgasm. For 3 hours! (“Honey, this is wonderful, but I’ve got to run some errands, go to the gym and play golf with the boys. Don’t stop. I’ll be back in plenty of time.”).
 
While all of this sounds like a stimulating ride toward nirvana, scattered news reports over the years paint Lafayette Morehouse—originally founded as More University—a  very different color purple.

 
More’s founder was the late Vic Baranco, an Oakland native whose black jazz pianist father and white Jewish mother “had the world’s most miserable marriage,” according to Baranco himself in a bylined article posted on the Lafayette Morehouse website, which portrays him as a benevolent leader and wise educator in the ways of sensual pleasure.

 Baranco is described rather less flatteringly in author David Felton’s 1972 book, Mindfuckers, which also profiles two other notorious cult leaders: Mel Lyman and Charles Manson (don’t you wish you shared a book cover with Chuck?). Felton called all three men “mindfuckers simply because they have made it their business to fuck men’s minds and to control them. They’ve succeeded by assuming godlike authority and using such mindfucking techniques as physical and verbal bullying and group humiliation.”

 Various other accounts and lawsuits reference More University’s tent-living homeless people, drug use, trash, vagrancy, filth and, of course, sex, including a 1978 county health officials’ report that a 3-year-old girl contracted gonorrhea while on the property. In an example of dubious marketing, reporters in 1992 found that More received generous donations of underwear from Jockey.

 Baranco eventually divorced his first wife, Suzanne, with whom he had two children and whose favorite color was purple.  He later married a considerably younger blonde, Cindy, with whom he spent 27 years before his death in Hawaii, home to yet another Morehouse location, in 2002. He was 68. Cindy is now the communal leader.

 I couldn’t find any recent reports about Lafayette Morehouse, which perhaps is tamer and a better neighbor since Baranco’s death. And I sure wasn’t going to try to penetrate the closely guarded community—I’d leave that to fearless, troublemaking local teens.

 However, I figured I could go undercover and attend one of Morehouse’s public classes. Choices include Basic Sensuality, Advanced Sensuality, Saying Yes to Pleasure and Mutual Pleasurable Stimulation of the Human Nervous System. But those cost between $225 and $475 each, well beyond this blog’s budget.

 Expansion of Sexual Potential sounded like a hands-on learning experience, but it runs a cool $12,500 and the course description says it has homework (sorry, I’m busy). If I’d had $35,000 burning a hole in my pants and had completed the prerequisites, I could have tried Qualification, which “will train you to experience and explore an intensity and duration of orgasm far beyond commonly held viewpoints in our society.”

 Instead, I enrolled in Intimacy Revealed: An Introduction. Why? It cost only $40, involved a group Q&A session and there was no touching or clothing removal (I know, boring!). The class was held at yet another Morehouse site—a purple Victorian house in Oakland adorned on the front with an inverted, modified peace sign, the community’s symbol.

 I got there a little late on a Friday night. Things started off kind of creepy.

 To be continued…

 

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2011 7:06 am

    Holy Toledo, Dean. Thank Isaiah for this incredibly hot lead. And I’m waiting with baited breath for the sequel.

    • burbs09 permalink*
      February 21, 2011 5:18 pm

      Just another typical day in the ‘burbs, Dusky!

  2. February 21, 2011 7:28 pm

    So, not only does the Bay Area have better music, better arts, better sports, and better restaurants than Sacramento…but now you’re telling me that you have a sex commune too? Damn.

  3. February 22, 2011 4:44 am

    Who knew suburban life could be so interesting. That must be why the house down the block always has so many cars parked out front!

    • burbs09 permalink*
      February 22, 2011 5:00 am

      True, but we never get invited to the party house!

  4. gregg permalink
    February 22, 2011 8:17 pm

    Fascinating post — and what a cliff-hanger. This could be a fascinating book or documentary, Dean!

    Wonder how many people have matriculated with the Doctor of Philosophy in Sensuality or Lifestyles? Could make for an interesting business card: Bob Baker, Ph.D., Sensuality

    The More University promotional video (http://www.lafayettemorehouse.com/more-university.html) from the early ’80s is a trip, especially this description of the curriculum:

    “The basic Sensuality course includes a live clinical demonstration of findings. Through manual stimulation, a woman certified by the university is brought to full contractual orgasm and is maintained there for one hour.”

    • burbs09 permalink*
      February 22, 2011 9:04 pm

      I’m telling you, Gregg, I never found a single course like these at the University of Wisconsin!

    • Berkeley Jean permalink
      October 15, 2011 1:19 am

      How many PhDs? I think its like 30 or 40? I asked and I don’t remember the exact number but I was surprised how small it was.

      I haven’t seen the promotional video, but nowadays I think its the “Fundamentals of Sensuality” class that includes the demonstration – I went to one in May (?) – I was quite impressed – for such a … topic … it was very well done, and there was a lot of really good information, and then the demonstration was, well, very impressive, and astonishingly from just seeing the demonstration, well, it had a really really good effect on my private life – if you follow my drift.

      FWIW I’d recommend it.

  5. John permalink
    February 22, 2011 8:50 pm

    The Minnesota Vikings “Purple People Eaters” were obviously onto something.

    • burbs09 permalink*
      February 22, 2011 9:03 pm

      I always wondered about Fran Tarkenton and Carl Eller. Now we know!

  6. Michele permalink
    February 23, 2011 7:57 pm

    Wow, Dean. I had no idea how colorful things were on your side of the tunnel.

    • burbs09 permalink*
      February 23, 2011 8:19 pm

      And neither did I. Somehow it’s all missed my block!

  7. Cindy Fields permalink
    March 10, 2011 7:14 pm

    Hi Dean, interesting post. Personally I’ve found those folks to be much duller than you are describing. A couple years back I walked down Purson Lane and talked to “the guard” – it was a woman in her 70s(?) – she told me that they all take turns sitting out front – the “guard” mostly is there to talk to the UPS guy -sign for packages – help people find their friends – help the meter reader find the right building, etc. She told me they get a fair amount of trespassing – mostly by local teens – and they’ve been paint-balled, had stones thrown, windows broken – the usual teen vandalism.

    • burbs09 permalink*
      March 10, 2011 7:52 pm

      Hi Cindy–I do think their heyday was some years ago. I can’t speak to what goes on inside the Purple neighborhood because I haven’t been there, but there have been published complaints at least into the early ’90s. Maybe everyone has mellowed with age. Still, it remains an interesting anomaly in Lamorinda or most suburban neighborhoods, I would think.

  8. Berkeley Jean permalink
    March 12, 2011 11:29 pm

    Wow! A cliff-hanger ending!

    I was there too at the intimacy event. I don’t know if I noticed you – – were you sitting by the door? I’m curious about your experience – can’t tell if you are foreshadowing or just making good use of the dramatic. I wouldn’t have used the word ‘creepy’ myself.

    • burbs09 permalink*
      March 13, 2011 5:34 pm

      Jean–I do plan on a Part 2–just that I’ve been on the road for work for a week, returning only late last night. I’ll probably work on it next weekend. I agree, it wasn’t creepy (my creepy anecdote happened outside before I came in), mostly boring advice though some interesting audience interactions. I left early. I was sitting near the door–you?

  9. Jim permalink
    March 18, 2011 3:45 am

    I’m looking forward to reading the second half of your eyewitness report. Your teaser, ” Things started off kind of creepy” has me imagining past scenes of Antoine LaVey with a nude woman draped over a marble alter. Am I close?

    • burbs09 permalink*
      March 20, 2011 7:00 pm

      Ah, I’m afraid your scenes are more exotic than the reality! Busy time so apologies for the delay in writing Part 2.

  10. Berkeley Jean permalink
    March 21, 2011 7:48 pm

    I was sitting near the fireplace.

    I’m always impressed with people who have the time to keep blogs going, so no rush from me on the next post.

  11. Monika permalink
    July 14, 2011 4:55 am

    looking forward to part 2!

  12. Deanna permalink
    September 7, 2011 3:50 am

    I lived there for many years as a preteen and teen,My mothers husband took us to live there.I had a blast as a kid the only trouble was the “publics” (what we called trespassers)who were constantly coming on to the property to spy on us usually in the dark of the night,when us kids were heading up to our house(the kids didnt live with their parents)we had our own house called the nursery and the nursery was located at the very top of a very dark steep road. the publics scared the piss out of us

    • burbs09 permalink*
      September 12, 2011 9:10 pm

      I’m glad you had a good experience there, Deanna. As I’m sure you know, there are varied opinions about the community and its former leadership. I have no doubt the “publics” wanted to spy on things and caused strife for you and the other kids. I hear the same thing from my kids today–apparently today’s young “publics” have the same curiosity as the previous generation.

  13. October 31, 2012 11:52 pm

    I LIVED THERE AS A HOMELESS PERSON. VIC AND CINDY AND THEIR STAFF GAVE ME SAFE SANCTUARY. FUN PARTIES,COMPASSION AND FRIENDSHIP. ALLOWING ME TO GET BACK ON MY FEET AGAIN!! THIS WAS IN 1991. I’LL NEVER FORGET THOSE WONDERFUL PURPLE PEOPLE. WITH LOVE, TODD GOLLADAY.

  14. Marc permalink
    October 15, 2015 12:36 am

    As a teenager in a crappy homelife situation during mid 80’s My dad, brother and I stayed here for awhile .I believe they also had freezers full of food for distribution to food banks, The people were very nice and their kids were also very nice, One odd thing was they called their monetary currency “trash” Eventually being snoopy led me to pay attention to members talking about sex with each other, I then heard group conversations about their lifestyle, In fact I was 14 at the time and not yet had sex .My good old dad decided he was gonna get me laid with the help of these people. Well a member talked with me and like any 14yr old talking to a stranger I wasnt very talkative or even wanting to talk about that in a living in a homeless situation, Shouldnt we have been trying to get going with life? Nothing ever hapened in that certain situation, And after leaving I moved around the Bay then up to Cresent City and it wasnt until 2015 that I remembered this place. I was there in either late 84, or early 85, Marc

    • burbs09 permalink*
      October 20, 2015 3:48 am

      Glad to hear you got out, seemingly just in time.

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