This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 20, number 1 (September-October 1997).
With the publication of Jehovah’s Witnesses — Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom in 1993, many Witnesses learned of Beth-Sarim (“House of the Princes”) — the San Diego mansion formerly owned by the Watchtower Society — for the first time. The brief treatment included in the history is misleading. Important information on why the mansion was built, what provisions were set forth in the deeds concerning the princes, and details concerning former Watchtower president “Judge” Joseph Rutherford’s burial are not included. When Beth-Sarim was sold in 1948, stipulations in the deeds to the property were ignored. Beth-Sarim is accurately identified as a monument to a false prophet and to false prophecy.
Before the publication of their latest history, Jehovah’s Witnesses — Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom (1993), most Jehovah’s Witnesses probably had never heard of Beth-Sarim (Hebrew for “House of the Princes”) nor seen a photo of the San Diego mansion. The book contains a brief treatment explaining its use and the purpose of its construction, refers to the deed, mentions the belief in the pre-Armageddon resurrection of the princes (“adjusted in 1950”), and the decision in 1947 to dispose of the property. The picture of the residence in the book was probably taken in 1947.1
An earlier history, Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose (1959), makes no mention of Beth-Sarim, while a treatment in the 1975 Yearbook explains the poor health of Watchtower president “Judge” Joseph F. Rutherford (he was actually an attorney, not a judge) and says the house was “for Brother Rutherford’s use.”2 Although there were occasional brief references to Beth-Sarim, until the Proclaimers book nothing significant had appeared in Watchtower publications since the 1940s.3 Research reveals that the Proclaimers book and the Yearbook mislead the reader by presenting incomplete information. Commenting on the Proclaimers coverage of Beth-Sarim, one reviewer concludes that the “book now provides more information, but still falls short of telling the whole truth.”4 Another observer says it presents a “thoroughly sanitized and misleading description of Beth-Sarim.”5
After so many years in which they ignored the subject, what made it necessary for the Watchtower to recognize Beth-Sarim in the Proclaimers book? Quite likely it was needed because many non-Witness books did mention Beth-Sarim in their coverage of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But it was especially necessary because the film and video, Witnesses of Jehovah (1987), shown thousands of times in the United States and abroad, caused many viewers to ask Witnesses about it, and they in turn asked their leaders questions.6
What is the story on Beth-Sarim? Why was it built? Why would reviewers conclude that the Proclaimers material on Beth-Sarim is “misleading” and “falls short of telling the whole truth”? Why can it accurately be identified as a monument to false prophecy?
THE BUILDING OF BETH-SARIM
In a 1930 issue of the Society’s publication Golden Age, Robert J. Martin, then manager of the Watchtower publishing facilities in Brooklyn, presented the Society’s account of acquiring the property and the building of Beth-Sarim, along with a copy of the deed.7 He explained that as a result of a severe case of pneumonia, Rutherford had only one good lung, a condition that made it very difficult for him to work in Brooklyn during the winter. Because of the mild climate in San Diego Rutherford had spent the previous four winters there under the care of Dr. Alta G. Eckols, who “repeatedly urged him to spend as much time as possible” there.8 In 1929, “in company with a few other brethren, we pressed this matter upon him, at that time the Lord having provided the means for the building of the house so that it would not be a burden on the Society. He finally consented that the house might be built only upon the condition that it should be exclusively for the use of the Lord’s work, henceforth and for ever…” (emphasis added).9
In October Martin went to San Diego to put the title for the two lots purchased by Dr. Albert E. Eckols into his name and to contract for the construction of the house. “A deed was made conveying the title to the house. This deed was written by Brother Rutherford himself.” Martin comments, “I am certain there is no other deed to any piece of property like it under the sun” 10
What made this deed unique? Martin explains that the “loyal ones…will rejoice when they know that this property will be for ever for the Lord’s people; that when Brother Rutherford is through with it somebody else in the Lord’s work will have it, and when David and Joseph or some of the other ancient worthies return they will have it” (emphases added).11
The architect for Beth-Sarim was the renowned Richard S. Requa, who drew “the plans for some of the most beautiful residences in and near San Diego.”12 The deeds for this unit of the exclusive San Diego neighborhood of Kensington Heights required a minimum building size of 1,500 square feet and a cost of $5,000 — “a goodly sum in pre-inflation days.”13 Beth-Sarim was over 5,100 square feet, and Robert Martin admits to a building cost approaching $25,000.14 Judge Rutherford told Watchtower Canadian branch overseer Walter Salter that he had been offered $75,000 for the residence, a figure also quoted in the San Diego Sun, published two months after the mansion was occupied.15 After Rutherford’s death a neighbor described the home as “one of the finest in Kensington Heights.”16
It should also be noted that Rutherford enjoyed the use of several other comfortable living quarters in New York, London, and Magdeburg, Germany (before the Nazis came to power). All are listed in an open letter written by Salter, who had been Rutherford’s friend and associate for 20 years. In that letter a disenchanted Salter exposed the hypocrisy of Rutherford’s luxurious lifestyle during the Great Depression.17 As Leonard and Marjorie Chretien observed, “While his workers plodded from door to door selling his prolific writings, the Judge lived the life of a major industrialist. He spent the winters at Beth-Sarim and traveled by steamship to Europe each summer.”18
BETH-SARIM GOES PUBLIC
Rutherford moved into the 4440 Braeburn Road residence on January 13, 1930. Two months later, the public was introduced to Beth-Sarim in a front-page article in the San Diego Sun titled, “San Diego Mansion — With All Modern Improvements — Awaits Earthly Return of Prophets.”19 It opened by reporting: “In one of the strangest deeds ever filed in the nation, Rutherford, president of the International Bible Students Association and of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, has put the huge tile-roofed home in fashionable Kensington Heights in perpetual trust for the ancient kings and prophets of Palestine” (emphasis added).20 The article went on to observe that “Judge Rutherford is intensely proud of the house he has planned and built for David, king of Israel; Samson…Joseph…and others equally as famous in the Bible.”21
The following January, the San Diego Sun carried another article on Beth-Sarim, “David’s House Waits for Owner.” When the reporter asked Rutherford how he thought the returned princes would look, Rutherford responded: “‘As perfect men. I interpret that to mean…that David, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthae, Joseph and Samuel will be sent here to wrench the world from Satan’s grasp, clothed in modern garb as we are, and able, with little effort to speak our tongue.’ Rutherford pictured the arrival of the biblical delegation perhaps in frock coats, high hats, canes and spats.”22 Rutherford’s booklet, What You Need (1932), depicted the seven “Ancient Worthies,” identified as “Earth’s new rulers,” in more traditional biblical garb.23
The mansion, the article continued, had “the most modern appliances that science has devised” and in a two-car garage “stands a new, yellow 16-cylinder [Cadillac] coupe which will be turned over to the rulers along with all the personal property on the place.”24 The Judge did not explain how this coupe could meet the transportation needs of even the seven returned princes named in the deed. “To place the value of this automobile in perspective, a new Ford in 1931 cost approximately 600 dollars. A 16-cylinder Cadillac cost between 5400 and 9200 dollars, depending on style. Another V-16 convertible sedan was kept at Brooklyn headquarters, and both cars were used exclusively by Judge Rutherford.”25 Auto historians tell more about the V-16: “Naturally, it was the very rich — and often as not, the famous — who made up the limited clientele of the V-16. Among the owners of the first-generation cars was Al Jolson…Robert Montgomery…Marlene Dietrich….”26
Rutherford predicted that the return of David and his companions would be the greatest news story in history and claimed that the testimony of Beth-Sarim had gone all over the world. “The seven famous men will not have long to rest at their San Diego estate because they soon will lead the forces of the Lord to vanquish the minions of Satan at the battle of Armageddon, Rutherford believes.”27
The Witnesses’ Columbus, Ohio, convention publication, The Messenger (25 July 1931), carried a significant treatment of Beth-Sarim, including several pictures of the house and grounds. The July 30 issue had a picture of a little girl, not quite two years old, captioned “Princess Bonnie.” The previous day she had been photographed talking with Judge Rutherford, and people wondered how she had obtained this privilege. Her parents were caretakers at Beth-Sarim, where they lived with Bonnie and her younger brother. It was explained:
Beth-Sarim being “the house of the princes,” and, as we confidently expect, to be occupied and used by some of the princes in the earth, it seemed quite appropriate that these children who are growing up there should be named in harmony with these scriptures. Hence the little girl is named Princess Bonnie Balko, and the little boy Prince Joseph Barak Balko….It is hoped that these two little ones may grow up at Beth-Sarim to be with the rulers of the earth and live forever to the glory of Jehovah’s name. They have been told, in so far as they can understand, that they may expect these noble men and, when they do appear, to meet them and put themselves completely under their direction (emphasis added).28
A letter to “Brother Rutherford” in the August 1, 1931 Watch Tower indicates what was believed at the time: “It is thrilling to look forward to the return of the faithful prophets before the last members of the remnant [those of the 144,000 still on earth] pass beyond [changed from the Society’s view in 1925]. Surely the Lord guided you to having the house built in San Diego in preparation for their return” (emphases added).29
WHY WAS BETH-SARIM BUILT?
Over the years Watchtower publications have said Beth-Sarim was built for Rutherford’s use (currently emphasized), as a testimony of faith in the “princes’” pre-Armageddon resurrection (currently rejected), and for the “princes’” use (currently forgotten). Were these the real or only reasons for its construction? There is evidence for a fourth and more important reason never mentioned in Society publications.
In 1920, Rutherford made a bold prophecy: “Therefore we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old” (emphasis added).30 But even before 1925 had ended, the Jehovah’s Witness periodical Golden Age adjusted the prophecy, writing that “it is apparent that there are many peoples now on earth who may confidently hope to see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the other prophets back on earth within a few years” (emphasis added).31 The year after the 1925 failure Rutherford attended a convention in Basel, Switzerland, where he was asked, “Have the ancient worthies returned?” He answered that they had not and that “it would be foolish to make such an announcement.” Then, changing the wording, he said, “It was stated in the ‘Millions’ book that we might reasonably expect them to return shortly after 1925, but this was merely an expressed opinion; besides it is still shortly after 1925. There is no good reason why we should expect the ancient worthies to return until the church is complete and the work of the church on earth is done” (emphases added).32
When the predictions for the return of the princes and other events in 1925 were not realized, many left the movement, and it has been observed that Rutherford was never the same. According to an inside source, Edward J. Ford, Jr., (who presently writes under a pseudonym because of his remaining ties to the Watchtower Society) Rutherford began to “drink to excess” and, when drunk, “the headquarters staff felt the wrath of his cursing tongue. Old timers say his drinking was covered up, to the degree possible, by associates [and future Society presidents] Frederick W. Franz and Nathan H. Knorr. It was they who showed a brilliance for manipulation and who dealt with Rutherford’s further decline into the realm of drunkenness and erratic behavior by encouraging him to build himself a house in California to spend his remaining years ‘writing in the sun.’”33
Ford was a Witness for over four decades. He worked on staff in the Society’s Bethel headquarters in Brooklyn for a number of years. He recalls conversations with his Witness father and his own contacts with Watchtower Society leaders. A. H. Macmillan, who served in headquarters under three Watchtower presidents and was “known to Jehovah’s Witnesses all over the world,”34 was a frequent weekend visitor in the Ford home. Although Macmillan was a loyal organization man and supportive of Rutherford, “he was critical of his drunkenness and irrational conduct.” Shortly after Rutherford’s death, Ford was present when Macmillan told his father that Beth-Sarim was built “for no purpose other than to get the drunken and declining Rutherford out of Brooklyn.”35 This was also confirmed later to Ford by Society attorney Hayden Covington, who directed the legal department and was elected vice president after Rutherford’s death. Covington “quoted Franz as saying, ‘they built the judge a house out in California just to get him out of Bethel.’” Covington also told Ford that it was Franz who “concocted the cover story…saying that the house was for the ancient prophets due back ‘any day’ in the pre-Armageddon resurrection.”36
Can Rutherford’s excessive drinking be confirmed from other sources besides those cited by Ford? Walter Salter writes of his purchases for Rutherford: ” I, at your orders, would purchase cases of whiskey at $60.00 a case, and cases of brandy and other liquors, to say nothing of untold cases of beer. A bottle or two of liquor would not do; it was for THE PRESIDENT and nothing was too good for THE PRESIDENT.”37 James Penton also cites evidence for Rutherford’s alcoholism in his book, Apocalypse Delayed.38
MORE PROPERTY FOR RUTHERFORD AND THE “PRINCES”
More San Diego property was purchased in 1938 and 1939 and deeded to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. One deed conveying some of this property states, in part,
To have and to hold in trust…for the following purposes….For the use and benefit of J. F. Rutherford…and thereafter for ever for Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Gideon, Barak, Joseph or any and all of them particu[lar]ly named and identified at the eleventh chapter of Hebrews in the Bible….
The reason for making this Deed in trust is as follows: The Grantors have full faith and confidence in Jehovah the Almighty God, and in the truthfulness of His Word….God, according to His promise, will at a very early date resurrect said men as perfect human creatures and that the Lord will make them the visible princes or rulers in the earth. This Deed is made as evidence of the faith of the said grantors in said Divine promise that these men will soon be back on earth and it is their purpose to prove their faith by deeding this land in trust as herein set forth. The property herein described…is donated and given as herein stated, to be made part of the property known as BETH-SARIM and the premises built on the lots above described and is made for the same purpose as that recited in the [Beth-Sarim] deed…. (emphases added).39
RUTHERFORD’S DEATH AND BURIAL
When Rutherford died on January 8, 1942, the predicted princes had obviously not returned. The periodical Consolation reported that “before his death Judge Rutherford made the simple request that his remains be buried somewhere on the hundred-acre estate…held in trust for the New Earth’s Princes” (emphasis in original).40 Requests for a permit for interment on the adjacent property below the mansion or on another Society-owned parcel (Beth-Shan) were denied by the San Diego County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. A petition for writ of mandate (mandamus) in the County Superior Court to force county officials to issue the permit was also unsuccessful.41
When Rutherford associate William P. Heath, Jr., spoke before the court he used the opportunity to promote the current beliefs of the Society: “Further proof that these princes will shortly take office upon earth as perfect men is found in the prophecy of Daniel….Proof is now submitted that we are now living at ‘the end of the days,’ and we may expect to see Daniel and the other mentioned princes any day now!” (emphasis in original).42
In arguing for Rutherford’s burial on land below Beth-Sarim acquired by Beth-Sarim’s Rest, a cemetery corporation of which he was vice president, Heath said “that no monument, no structure, no mausoleum would be placed or erected, and that the only grave marker would be a stone beneath an oak tree surrounded by orange and lemon trees.”43 That this clearly was not the original plan is evidenced by the unfinished concrete crypt measuring approximately 25 feet wide, 8 feet deep, and 12 feet in height built on another location on the hillside property. It can be easily seen from a half mile away. The unfinished structure is never once mentioned in Heath’s extensive arguments before the Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors, and the judge in the Superior Court, nor in the coverage in the May 27, 1942 Consolation, but it is noted in the January 13, 1942 San Diego Union.44
The front cover of the May/June 1996 Free Minds Journal provides a rearview of Beth-Sarim (indicating it was for sale) with a caption, “Is Joe [J.F.R.] buried in the back yard?” On the back page a brief review of Beth-Sarim concludes: “Fred Franz, fourth WT president, often indicated Rutherford was (illegally) buried in the back yard.” In a telephone conversation about the statement attributed to Franz, ex-Bethelite and Free Minds Journal editor Randall Watters said that he heard this from a number of persons who had worked in Watchtower headquarters.45
This account is further verified by Mike, a Jehovah’s Witness, who along with a friend visited the Brooklyn headquarters early in 1987. Their visit took them to Franz’s office. He asked Franz about a story he had heard about a burial site on a piece of property that was not part of the original estate . Who was buried there? Without any hesitation — he remembers it as clearly as if it happened yesterday — Franz said, “Judge Rutherford was buried there.”46
WHAT ABOUT THE “SOON” RETURN OF THE “PRINCES”?
Predictions concerning the return of the pre-Christian “Ancient Worthies” or princes were made long before 1917,47 the year J. F. Rutherford became president of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. This false prophecy would be propagated worldwide through Rutherford’s discourses, his writings, and his promotion of Beth-Sarim, until his death. The idea that the princes would return “any day now,” “shortly,” or “very shortly” would continue to receive attention for a time in the unsuccessful efforts of William P. Heath, Jr., and other Society representatives to obtain a permit to bury Rutherford’s body on its property in San Diego, and through Watchtower publications.48 While not stated publicly until 1950, the upcoming “adjustment” of the teaching on the princes imminent pre-Armageddon resurrection can be detected as early 1945.49
The New World (1942) stated that the “faithful men of old may be expected back from the dead any day now. The Scriptures give good reason to believe that it shall be shortly before Armageddon breaks,” and that Beth-Sarim was “now held in trust for the occupancy of those princes on their return.” It was claimed that “the most recent facts show that the religionists of this doomed world are gnashing their teeth because of the testimony which the ‘House of the Princes’ bears to the new world.”50 This is an interesting statement in light of Society President Knorr’s August 15, 1947 Assembly announcement concerning the property:
The audience…applauded when informed that the Society’s board of directors had voted unanimously to dispose of Beth-Sarim, either by outright sale or by rent, because it had fully served its purpose and was now only serving as a monument quite expensive to keep; our faith in the return of the men of old time whom the King Christ Jesus will make princes in ALL the earth (not merely in California) is based, not upon that house Beth-Sarim, but upon God’s Word of promise.51
It is significant that Knorr referred to Beth-Sarim as “now only serving as a monument.” It should be remembered that the Great Pyramid of Egypt, promoted by Watchtower founder Charles Taze Russell as designed by God, and Rutherford after him, was also later identified by the Society as a “monument” — “a monument of demonism.”52 It is quite remarkable that while the Great Pyramid “monument” was rejected in the strongest language at the end of 1928, less than a year later a new “monument” was built. And ultimately, with its sale in 1948,53 its core teachings about the imminent return of the princes before Armageddon and their use of Beth-Sarim as their abode would be rejected.
From the record of history it must be concluded that Beth-Sarim bears a testimony — it is a monument to a false prophet and to false prophecy. Rutherford asked, “How are we to know whether one is a true or a false prophet?” His answer was, “If he is a true prophet, his message will come to pass exactly as prophesied. If he is a false prophet, his prophecy will fail to come to pass…. — Deut. 18:21, 22.”54
Edmond C. Gruss has written several books on the Jehovah’s Witnesses, cults, and the occult. Leonard Chretien is a director of Good News Defenders, and with his wife Marjorie, the author of Witnesses of Jehovah (Harvest House, 1988).
Note: Because of space limitations many details and related issues could not be included in this study. A full book on the subject, Jehovah’s Witnesses—Their Monuments to False Prophecy (1997), is available from Witness Inc., P. O. Box 597, Clayton, CA 94517.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses — Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom (Brooklyn: Watch Tower, 1993), 76.
- 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Brooklyn: Watch Tower, 1974), 194.
- Let Your Name Be Sanctified (Brooklyn: Watch Tower, 1961), 336; The Watchtower, 1 November 1955, 655; 1 June 1985, 27; 1 March 1992, 27.
- David A. Reed, “Proclaimers” Answered Page by Page (Stoughton, MA: David A. Reed, 1994), 11.
- Randall Watters, “Review of the New Watchtower Book: Jehovah’s Witnesses Proclaiming [sic] God’s Kingdom,” Free Minds Journal, September/October 1993, 3.
- The Witnesses of Jehovah video is available postpaid for $22.00 from Good News Defenders, P.O. Box 8007, La Jolla, CA 92037.
- Robert J. Martin, “The Truth about the San Diego House,” The Golden Age, 19 March 1930, 405-7.
- Ibid., 405.
- Ibid. This deed is recorded in Book 1741, 69-71, San Diego County Recorder.
- Ibid., 406.
- Lew Scarr identified Requa as the architect in “Kensington — Cave, Grave, Stability,” San Diego Union, 21 December 1986, B-8. Samuel F. Black, San Diego County California, vol. 2 (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publ., 1913), 216, is the source of the quote.
- Thomas H. Baumann, Kensington-Talmadge 1910-1985 (San Diego: T. H. Baumann, 1984), 12-13.
- A sale listing dated 26 April 1995 places the size at 5,156 square feet. Martin, 406.
- Virgil A. Wyatt, “San Diego Mansion — With All Modern Improvements — Awaits Earthly Return of Prophets,” San Diego Sun, 15 March 1930, 1.
- Minutes of the San Diego County Planning Commission, 24 January 1942, 230.
- Walter Salter, “Open Letter to Hon. J. F. Rutherford,” 1 April 1937, 2.
- Leonard and Marjorie Chretien, Witnesses of Jehovah (Eugene, Or.: Harvest House, 1988), 46.
- “San Diego Mansion,” 15 March 1930, 1, 3.
- Ibid., 1.
- Ibid., 3.
- Virgil A. Wyatt, “David’s House Waits for Owner,” San Diego Sun, 9 January 1931, 15
- Joseph F. Rutherford, What You Need (Brooklyn: Watch Tower, 1932), 8. The Messenger, 25 July 1931, 8, presents another list of “princes.”
- Wyatt, 15.
- Chretien, 45-46.
- Special Interest Autos, April 1986, 21.
- “David’s House,” 15.
- The Messenger, 30 July 1931, 2.
- The Watch Tower, 1 August 1931, 239.
- Joseph F. Rutherford, Millions Now Living Will Never Die (Brooklyn: International Bible Students Association, 1920), 89-90.
- “New Heavens and New Earth — What Are They?” The Golden Age, 12 August 1925, 731.
- “European Conventions,” The Watch Tower, 1 July 1926, 196.
- This material is based on the authors’ telephone interviews with Edward J. Ford, Jr., (pseud.) October-December 1996, and his as-yet-unpublished manuscript, The Four Presidents of the Watchtower Society.
- President N. H. Knorr, in the Introduction to A. H. Macmillan’s book, Faith on the March (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1957).
- Ford interviews and manuscript.
- Salter, “Open Letter,” 1.
- M. James Penton, Apocalypse Delayed (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985).
- Signed 15 February 1939, Book 1025, 29-30, San Diego County Recorder.
- “San Diego Officials Line Up against New Earth’s Princes,” Consolation, 7 May 1942, 3.
- Case 106941.
- “San Diego Officials,” 13.
- Ibid., 7, quoting the San Diego Union, 25 January 1942.
- “Vault Permit Delays Burial of Rutherford,” San Diego Union, 13 January 1942, B-10.
- Telephone interview, 8 October 1996.
- Telephone interview, 2 October 1996. Mike, who did not wish to be further identified, became a Witness during the 1970s. He became disillusioned with the Witnesses about five years ago as a result of a careful study of the history of the movement.
- In 1904 Pastor Russell taught that the “princes” would be resurrected “about 1914, or shortly thereafter….” (“The Rank of the Ancient Worthies,” Watchtower Reprints, 15 October, 3445.) Earlier it was believed that in 1874 “the resurrection of David was also due….”(“Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence,” Watchtower Reprints, February 1881, 188.)
- The New World (Brooklyn: Watch Tower, 1942), 104, 130; The Truth Shall Make You Free (Brooklyn: Watch Tower, 1943), 358.
- Beth-Shan, held in trust for the princes’ use (Book 1075, 42-43), was sold on 29 March 1945 (Book 1853, 260-1, San Diego County Recorder). An article on Beth-Shan will appear in the next issue of Christian Research Journal.
- The New World, 104.
- “‘All Nations’ Expansion’ Assembly,” The Watchtower, 15 December 1947, 382.
- “‘Jehovah Is in His Holy Temple,’” The Watchtower, 15 November 1955, 697.
- Book 2858, 386-89, San Diego County Recorder.
- “True and False Prophets,” The Watch Tower, 15 May 1930, 154.