Ambarisa das: We did some programs also at the University of Michigan. Because I was the driver, I wanted to get Prabhupada as close to the door as I could. So one time I drove through these bushes and over the grass to get Srila Prabhupada to the door of the auditorium. Brahmananda was sitting in the back, he was saying, “You can’t do that just because you’re a Ford.” I said, “No, it’s not because of that. Because I have Prabhupada in the back seat, I feel I can bend the rules a little bit to try to get him as close to the door as possible.” Prabhupada was laughing, he thought it was funny. But we had some nice programs at the University of Michigan.
Prabhupada was on his world tour, but at the same time we were getting ready to buy a new temple. Govardhan had gone out and scouted around and had found what is now the Bhaktivedanta Cultural Center, this historic mansion, the Fisher Mansion, which was in this very, very dilapidated part of town, East Jefferson it’s called. It was ghetto and just horrible, but the property itself was quite nice and it was being sold. So we took Srila Prabhupada over there.
The man who owned it owned an alarm company, so he had rigged the whole house up to test his alarms and he had dogs and carpeting and it was really muchi. So I was not all that impressed because it was dark and oppressive and it was just scary, it was a scary place. I was not all that impressed by it. But we walked into the ballroom that Mr. Fisher used to have his parties in, and at the far end of the ballroom were three arches behind which the orchestra used to sit to play for the people when they came to the dance. So Srila Prabhupada saw these three arches and he said, “Oh, Krishna has made this house for us.” So we walked around and looked at the mansion, here, there, and Prabhupada asked what they were asking. They were asking $350,000 and Srila Prabhupada said, just to us, not to the realtor, “Every room is worth $350,000.”
Then as we were walking out Govardhan said, “How do you like this house, Srila Prabhupada?” And Prabhupada said, “Who would not like?” So Govardhan…I don’t know why he said it, he said, “Well, Ambarisa doesn’t like it,” because I had expressed some reservations about it. I was a new devotee and I said, “Prabhupada, it’s maya.” When you’re new, you think you know a lot more than you actually do. So Prabhupada said, “Yes, Krishna is maya too. This can be utilized for Krishna’s service too.” Prabhupada saw everything as being able to be utilized in Krishna’s service, this principle of yukta-vairagya, which I didn’t know very much about then. Also, Prabhupada said if Krishna comes here the neighborhood would change, because I had expressed some reservations, “This is a high crime neighborhood.” Actually the first carjacking in the United States took place there. So I had some reservations about crime and what was going to happen to the devotees, etc., and Prabhupada said, “You just bring Krishna here and distribute prasadam, then everything will change.” I just surrendered. So we decided that we would make an offer for the house.
So the next day Govardhan, myself and Srila Prabhupada, we went back to the house, back to the Fisher Mansion, and we had a meeting out by the pool with the real estate lady, our broker, and the owner of the house. We all sat down, and the first thing that Srila Prabhupada said was “We are mendicants, so we would like it if you would give us this house.” So the real estate lady, she almost fell in the pool because she saw her commission fly out the window. And the owner of the house, his jaw dropped because…I could tell what was going on in his head, that he was looking at Prabhupada and thinking, “Well, maybe he’s a mendicant, but this guy over here,” looking at me, “definitely no, he’s not a mendicant,” because he knew who I was. So anyway, he said, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t do that.” He was asking $350,000 and Srila Prabhupada agreed to pay $300,000. So we got this beautiful historic mansion with all this work that really can’t be replicated. That house, to replace it would cost probably 5 or 10 million dollars. So we got it for $300,000. So everybody was happy. Lekhasravanti, she was Walter Reuther’s daughter, and she basically surrendered everything. She gave everything she had to buy this house, and whatever she couldn’t cover I covered. So it was about 50-50. She was very surrendered, and I really commend her for that because she sacrificed everything for Prabhupada.
That night I remember the real estate lady, she was a middle-aged Polish woman, and her friend came over to congratulate Prabhupada that they had accepted the offer. So they came up to Prabhupada’s room. Both of them were intoxicated, so they were rolling around on the pillows in front of Prabhupada’s desk. But he was so jolly because he was happy that we had purchased this house, and he was so kind to these old ladies. That was Prabhupada’s nature was that he could see everybody’s spiritual identity, and he was very merciful to them. So we ended up purchasing the house, and that was a momentous occasion during that trip.
We had our grand opening in 1983, I think it was. And since that time, there has been redevelopment all around the whole mansion, and people have told us actually that the reason they came in there and put money into the area was because the Fisher Mansion was there and was being maintained so nicely by the devotees. So Srila Prabhupada could see past, present and future and could see that this was going to be very successful and become a very famous place. But it was really wonderful to have Prabhupada there, I remember it very sweetly. Of course, I had my personal service driving Prabhupada around, it was very nice just after having been initiated. I’ll always remember that trip.