Morehouse, the Beginning
By Malinda Kerr Bussey
While Bob and I were living in Maxine's house (a wild and crazy
commune in Piedmont, a ritzy part of Oakland) we had been keeping
company with Vic, Suzie and their kids, Dave, age 8, and Michelle,
age 6. We would go out to their house in Lafayette and among other
things, sit around and talk philosophy. Sometime towards the end of
1967, we got together at their house and had one of our philosophical
conversations, only this time something special happened: Vic had given
us a Presentation (before they were called that) and I got it.
He explained how he had traced his problems back to their source
over and over and that each time the source of his life turned out to be
himself, Victor. I understood that the only way to become a wrong
person, doing wrong things, is by my agreeing that I'm wrong. I am in
control of my life. Only if I permit it can someone else control me
(not really control me because I gave my permission so I'm still in
At that point, I realized I could not be victimized anymore because
the only way anyone could do anything bad to me is if I agreed that they
had. With this new viewpoint, not only was I right, everything was
right. I am perfect. Wow! This viewpoint of me being the source of my
life answered all my questions. It made total sense and felt so
comfortable. I felt like the big Secret of the Universe had been
revealed. I loved it!!! Vic had told a couple of people before me and
their reaction had been to leave the country and not see Vic ever again.
In April of 1968, Vic ran his first Mark Group. Bob and I were
there, we still were interested in group living and wanted to open a
commune. More and more people gathered at this group. People started
asking if Vic would say more about sensuality or communication or
man/woman, so the first courses were written and taught that year.
We started looking for a house where we could start. Vic promised
that by Thanksgiving we would close a deal for a house. We looked
everywhere. We found a $50,000 house in Lafayette which had a swimming
pool but that was still pretty pricey for a house in those days. Vic
kept steering us toward something easier to get into and something the
group could work on together to increase its value. He said that if the
whole group made it nicer, the whole group would feel like they owned it
and truly be a family, with everyone feeling "in".
We all - Vic, Suzie, David, Michelle, Bob and I - would pile into
their huge, brand-new station wagon and drive around looking for
property. We had two realtors working for us, one in Contra Costa
County and another in Alameda County. On these outings, we would also
stop by the Rheem Theater for a couple of movies. The Rheem was known
for its upholstered rocking seats. No one else had these seats then.
Finally, toward the end of October, 1968, our realtor in Berkeley,
Arlene Slaughter, found our house. We made an appointment to go see it.
The whole neighborhood was run way down, and the house Arlene had
found was the biggest, most beautiful Victorian on the block. It was in
what was then a pretty rough neighborhood in Oakland. One of the best
things was that the house was on a cul-de-sac, so not a lot of
Still, Bob and I were in shock. The whole front stairs were
almost entirely missing and Vic was saying "Yeah, this looks like it!"
We got to the front door very carefully, only to come face to face with
nine pages of condemnation proceedings against the house. This was a
list of all the building code violations that would have to be fixed
just to move in and occupy the building. There was already a date set
for demolition. And now Vic was getting even more excited about what a
perfect house for us it was!
We made it past the front door and into the foyer. The house had
been split up into about six apartments, with the bottom rear being the
only one we had access to. There were three upper stories and a large
basement. Arlene escorted us into the rear apartment. The kitchen came
first and again, I couldn't believe my eyes. Right in front of the sink
was a huge hole in the floor - I mean huge - probably 5' X 6'. You
could no longer stand in front of the sink to do dishes. I looked over
at Vic. He had a really gleeful look on his face. Arlene told us that
the plumbing was so bad in this apartment that the mom who lived there
would take her two young daughters to the neighbor's houses for a bath.
"Wow! What a mess!" I thought. We looked around at the rest of the
place but, frankly, Bob and I were dazed. We had imagined a fixer-upper
but this was way over the top, as far as we were concerned. And the
price was right: $17,950.
We waited until the realtor left to let Vic know how we felt, that
we knew we wanted something to fix up but wasn't this way too run down?
We didn't know how to do this much repair. Vic kept assuring us that he
knew construction and that the building department would tell us how to
do the repairs on the list, how this could be a most beautiful Victorian
mansion. Vic also talked about buying other houses on this block and
owning the whole thing. Suzie said, "Yeah, and we could paint it
purple, my favorite color." We like that idea!
We came up with a $2,000 down payment and then found out we needed
an additional $386 for closing costs. One afternoon, Bob and I, Vic,
and a guy named Bill Lawes went for a ride in our '57 Chevy, the first
car Vic helped us get. We drove all over, Bob and Bill in the front
seat and Vic and I in the back. We had a grand old time. The next day
Bob and I asked Bill for the $386, and he gladly gave it to us. Done
So by Thanksgiving, 1968, we signed the deal for the house. We
took possession on January 1, 1969 and Bob and I and Eve Drew moved into
the third floor. We served 30-day notices to move to all the tenants,
helped some find new homes, and began moving in more people. There had
been discussions going on for months about getting a house so we had
people (mostly women) who had been going to Mark Groups and taking
courses ready to join us. We were all so excited. Before the end of
February, we had filled the top three floors and had moved a couple into
When the Building Department found out we had bought the house
they were ready to demolish, they weren't at all happy. They
immediately started pressuring us about the repairs and, just like Vic
said, we started at the top of the list. When we didn't know how to
proceed, we went downtown and asked the inspectors to show us what they
wanted and how to do it. We made progress, but we were slow at times.
That's when the inspectors had every agency in existence show up on the
block to pressure us. One time, in one day, the Building Department,
Health Department, Police Department, Fire Department, Sanitation
Department and some other city officials showed up to tell us that we
may have bitten off more than we could chew, and maybe we should just
let the demolition go through.
We all just kept partying and repairing, partying and repairing.
The music was blaring; people were hanging out of all the windows,
puttying and painting. We had food and drink and a masseuse going
around giving shoulder and back rubs. We started calling these
work/play parties "groovies." As long as we kept making steady
progress, all the city agencies were very supportive. In fact, the
building inspectors started bringing us people to take care of, out of
condemned buildings. I think we made a huge impression on the City of
Oakland. We did a good job and they noticed. Doing it the way Vic
described worked like a charm!
It is now almost 40 years since we bought that first house, and a
great deal has changed in our own lives and the world. However, Vic's
vision for a community in which people could live together, love each
other and have fun is still going strong!
Joy Wagner's experience of moving into the first Morehouse