Lunch with 10,000 Buddhas
Friend of IT Freda Moon tells how she found culinary delights in a former mental hospital in California.
Whenever I return to California after a long absence, I’m struck by the state’s juxtapositions–the way that cowboys and hippies coexist beneath the redwoods in the north, while movie stars, porn stars, and megachurches all thrive among the palm trees in the south.
I was reminded of this one afternoon last week, when I went in search of a vegetarian restaurant getting rave reviews in my native Mendocino County. I found myself listening to the cries of peacocks while enjoying a meal of seitan (wheat gluten), fried tofu, and curried vegetables on the sprawling campus of a former state mental hospital in Talmage, California.
The Mendocino State Hospital, originally Mendocino State Asylum for the Insane, closed in 1973. The property was sold and its 488-acre grounds were transformed into the City of 10,000 Buddhas, one of the Western Hemisphere’s largest Buddhist communities. Today, the City, which is set against the foothills of the Yokayo Valley and framed by vineyards and fruit orchards, is as quiet as it is beautiful. But the buildings of the former mental hospital remain. Painted in a soft yellow, the warehouse-like structures have been re-purposed. They now serve as a temple and monastery, university, dining hall and dorms, elementary and secondary schools, and a bookstore and gift shop.
In 1962, California’s mental hospitals were immortalized by Ken Kesey in his first book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. By the end of that decade, a reform movement was gaining strength, arguing against large-scale institutionalization of the mentally ill in favor of community-based housing and treatment. By then, however, the number of mental patients had already declined dramatically from its peak in the mid-1950s, when the first effective psychiatric drug, Thorazine, became widely available. In the early 1970s, then-California Governor Ronald Reagan closed many of the state’s mental hospitals, including Mendocino State Hospital.
The hospital, which opened its doors in July, 1893, had had as many as 3,000 patients and 700 employees in 1955.
Today, as the City of 10,000 Buddhas, it’s a fascinating place to spend an afternoon.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Portions of the grounds, the book store and shop, a large organic garden and a locally popular restaurant, Jyun Kang Vegetarian Restaurant, are open to the public.
Jyun Kang Vegetarian Restaurant
2001 Talmage Road, Ukiah, California
Tel. (707) 462-0939
Hours: 12pm-3pm, Closed Tuesdays
Photo: Freda Moon