CAN A COLLEGE AND A COUNTY TRANSFORM A COUNTRY? – THE STORY OF NEW PARADIGM COLLEGE IN LUCERNE

Sunlight streams in through the twelve-foot windows that frame two walls of the room, alternately illuminating and shadowing the remains of a shuffleboard court etched into the floors.  It’s easy to hear the sound of vacationers laughing as they pushed their pucks across the terra cotta tiles nearly one hundred years ago.

“We’re talking about making this our art studio,” Amanda Martin, event coordinator at the newly founded New Paradigm College, says, the sun shining on her bright hair. “The light is really good, and we’ve been working with an artist about holding classes here.”

A pottery wheel sits off to the side, half-shaded in the light. The room’s quiet, peaceful, and full of creative energy. After a few seconds, Amanda turns towards the door.

“Now let’s head up to the tower,” she smiles, her dark-edged blue eyes shining in the light.

~~~

Sitting on a hill above Lucerne, the building known to most Lake County locals as “The Castle,” from the beginning has had bold and exciting plans for the county.  It started as a blank piece of land bordering the shores of Clear Lake.  Bought in the mid-1920s by the Clear Lake Beach Company, they thought big. Their first order of business was to create a resort and a community with a big name: Lucerne, not after the dairy, but after the Swiss city. 

With these ambitious plans, the company set to work, creating paved streets with curbs and sidewalks, a water system, an electric plant, a beautiful lakeside pavilion, and, most importantly, a massive, 55,000 square foot hotel.  It was intended to be a beacon rising above Clear Lake, a hub of activity for the planned community of Lucerne.

Photo courtesy Museums of Lake County

However, as The Great Depression hit in 1929, work stopped on the hotel.  Then the bad times began.  Another company took it over in 1938 and finished the construction, but they only were able to keep the hotel open a year before shutting it down.  Another owner bought the place, intending to turn it into a hospital, but failed. In the 1950s, a Baptist Seminary purchased it but slowly let it run down until it fell into disuse. 

Then, in 2010, to encourage Marymount College to settle at the castle, the County of Lake invested nearly three million to remodel half of the building, updating everything and creating a new, classroom-focused instead of a resort-focused hotel.  Yet, after a few years, Marymount changed their minds and vacated the building, once again leaving it empty.

~~~

 “We looked for years and years for a location,” Bill Stranger, co-founder of New Paradigm and creator of its curriculum, explains. “When we found out the Castle was available, we thought it would be perfect. Marymount was there at the time, and Danny Sheehan, our President, Andrew Beath, Director of the Earthways Foundation, and I approached their president at the time, Michael Brophy, to see if they would be open to sharing  building with us.  For two years, we negotiated with them but never were able to make a deal.

‘‘Then, when Marymount left, Denise Rushing, who had become a core member of our team, called me up and said it’s time to get the band back together. So we seized the opportunity,” Bill continues. “Denise, I, and Seth, appeared before Lake County’s committees while Danny worked  with Andrew to bring the EarthWays Foundation along. Andrew is deeply committed to the environmental restoration of Clear Lake and encouraged his foundation to purchase the building expressly for the purpose of using it for New Paradigm College’s service to that end.”     

Excitement fills Bill’s voice as he shares. “We’re creating a transdisciplinary college. It’s new approach to education that embraces multiple levels of knowledge, from science to farming the aesthetics, including both the objective and subjective dimensions of our experience. The idea is to see the world as a whole, not just through the lenses employed by the different academic disciplines, so that we can deal with the climate crisis and the other existential threats to our planet from the most inclusive point of view.

“We at New Paradigm believe that the number one imperative for the world now is to create a new generation of leaders capable of relating to any world view so they an effectively serve our transition to a truly sustainable form of living with one another and with the entire natural world.

“And importantly, we are looking to engage and draw upon the energy, talents, and wisdom of the entire Lake County community,” Bill continues. “This is not a college for people who want to hide out in an ivory tower. All of our leadership training is in the context and in cooperation with the people who live and work here. You may have heard the saying, ‘Can a college and a county transform a country?’ That’s what we are working to accomplish with New Paradigm.”

~~~

We’re in the unrestored part of the castle, slowly working our way upward. A long hallway stretches out in front of us; door after door after door winds off into the distance.  One is cracked open. Adrian Sinnott, interning for New Paradigm, pushes it wide.

“Most of the rooms look like this one,” he says, standing in the doorway.  His “Rebelution” t-shirt glows in the light from the window.  “I’ve been in all of the rooms.” He smiles, “It took me a few weeks, but I have seen them all.” 

“These are the original rooms for the hotel,” Amanda adds. “Each one was designed to have a full bathroom, something unusual for the time.”  We peer in the room, the wall of windows illuminating the worn hardwood floors. “Eventually, we’re planning on converting these into dorm rooms.”

A stairway opens to our left. “Let’s head this way,” Adrian says, walking up the steps, his clogs clicking against his heels with each stair. “We’ll take you up to the tower.”

~~~

New Paradigm doesn’t work like an ordinary college. “We’re in the process of becoming a transdisciplinary college for the University of San Francisco,” Bill Stranger shares.  “Once we’re certified, we’ll be offering an Integrated Global Studies major.  Instead of going abroad, USF will be encouraging them to come to Lake County for a year.

Denise Rushing, co-founder of New Paradigm, expands on the idea: “New Paradigm college gives environmentally and politically-engaged students an opportunity to accomplish real projects as part of their education—and a place to explore these key issues with and within a living community.”

She continues: “New Paradigm College is dedicated to the grassroots regeneration of Lake County’s ecology, community, culture and economy, and inspiring others with Lake County’s story.”

To that end, New Paradigm, though still young, is working to become not just a college, but a community center. In the past few months, they have set up co-working office space, called The Hub at NPC.  It offers private meeting rooms, conference space, high-speed internet, and working space in the beauty of the castle. 

They also have already offered several classes, including the upcoming Permaculture Design Certification course, a six-weekend class focusing on permaculture and ecological design. 

“It’s like we’re creating a mycelial network,” Amanda Martin explains. “Just like the vast web that mushrooms create, we’re creating an interlinked web that begins here, at New Paradigm, extends into the town of Lucerne, and stretches further out into Lake County and the world.”

~~~

We’ve wound up staircase after staircase until finally we stand in a wood-floored room at the top of the tower.  Originally designed as a gambling room, it radiates the morning sunlight. 

“We’re thinking maybe we can use these for yoga classes,” Amanda shares, adjusting her bright blue scarf, “But we’re not sure yet.”

The town of Lucerne stretches out beneath us, sweeping down toward the blue of the lake. Then the view expands, reaching across the water to Lakeport, where the buildings glint brightly against the green of the oaks.  Looking up, Mt. Konocti’s peaks silhouette the emerald sky.  And further out, the Mayacamas mountain range stretches west and south, out of Lake County and into the distance.

~~~

“There are 65,000 people in this geographically distinct area known as Lake County,” Bill Stranger shares over the phone.  “Can we come together and bring change to the world?”

He pauses, and the line goes quiet for a second.

“I think we can,” he says.  “I really think we can.”

For more information on New Paradigm College, visit their website.

David Wakefield

David and Trudy Wakefield started The Bloom in 2018 to showcase the best parts of Lake County and to provide a local outlet for community events, arts, music, and writing.

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