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Revisiting Visionary Utopia: Katherine Tingley’s Lomaland, 1898-1942

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Revisiting Visionary Utopia: Katherine Tingley’s Lomaland, 1898-1942 is a new exhibit on display in the new Reading Room (LL150) of the Department of Special Collections at the SDSU Library.

The exhibit explores the Theosophical community of Lomaland, which flourished on Point Loma, San Diego from 1898 until 1942. A contemplative, intentional community, Lomaland was an experiment to make Theosophy “intensely practical,” according to its founder and spiritual leader, Katherine Tingley. Inspired by the ideals found in late 19th century Theosophy and the New England Transcendentalism of her childhood, Tingley’s charismatic personality and vision drew together participants from more than twenty countries. She established the ‘School for the Revival of the Lost Mysteries of Antiquity’ and the ‘Raja Yoga School’ for children, which embraced dramatic productions, music, art, and literature. Reaching its peak of nearly 500 residents by 1920, Lomaland developed into a vibrant community based on Universalist ethics and altruistic ideals, and became the cultural and educational hub of a growing San Diego.

This is the first exhibit to be curated by a university in the United States on the cultural history of Lomaland and its creative arts. It is also the first time primary source archival material on the history of Theosophy has been made available for study to a United States academic institution. This unique convergence, in the academic setting of the University, offers students, faculty and researchers the opportunity to study a unique cultural phenomenon from San Diego’s early history.

The exhibit was made possible through a generous gift of materials from Mr. Kenneth Small, whose parents were longtime residents of Lomaland. The curators also wish to thank the San Diego History Center for a gracious loan of items from its collections.

Special guest speakers will be a feature of the exhibit, which will be on display through December 31, 2019.

View Photographs of Lomaland

A Page from History: Lomaland’s Greek Theater made an ideal setting for ‘The Tempest’ in the ‘20s

The Greek Theater, “the crest jewel of Point Loma,” was the first of its kind in the United States.


“To pass over the threshold of the steps leading down into the beautiful stage … gave one the impression of being transported from mundane things into a world created by dreams. It was to step from a cosmopolitan world to a desert island, so completely was the setting prepared.”

That was how a San Diego Union review described a contemporary production of William Shakespeare’s fantastic allegory “The Tempest.”

The year was 1926. The setting was the Greek Theater at Lomaland in Point Loma, and the production was staged by the Raja Yoga Players under the direction of Katherine Tingley. She was the leader of the Theosophical Society, originally formed in 1875 as “an unsectarian body of seekers after truth who endeavor to promote brotherhood and strive to serve humanity.”

Though “cosmopolitan” may have been a reach, San Diego in the Roaring ‘20s was no longer the sleepy and dusty little outpost it had seemed in the 1890s. Electricity, good paved roads and public transportation had become commonplace.

You may be familiar with the tale of Lomaland, the Theosophical estate established not quite 30 years earlier on the top of the peninsula.

No? Surely then you’ve heard stories about Madame Tingley, the vigorous visionary spiritualist leader who moved the headquarters of the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society from New York City to a remote locale high on a hill above the Pacific Ocean — a place she had once visited … in a dream.

The hilltop we are referring to is now home to Point Loma Nazarene University.

In 1897, Madame Tingley was able to purchase 130 acres just north of the government reservation on Point Loma, with an option to acquire an adjoining 40 more. Her plans were elaborate for any age, but with her remarkable energy and a cadre of willing and like-minded Theosophists in tow, the Lomaland community quickly began to take shape.

The first order of business was the remodeling of the just-completed Point Loma House hotel and sanitarium. The diamond-shaped structure would become known as The Homestead at Lomaland and would soon house Tingley’s unique school, the Raja Yoga Academy, where music, art and drama were integral parts of the curriculum. Construction of the beautifulTemple of Peace followed.

Katherine Tingley is pictured in the mid-1920s at Lomaland, the Theosophical community she founded in Point Loma.

In summer 1901, work began on what became known as “the crest jewel of Point Loma,” the Greek Theater. The theater was the first of its kind in the United States and, many have felt, the most beautiful such theater in the world. Its setting in a natural canyon above the Pacific is hard to match.

Tingley’s own composition, “The Aroma of Athens,” was the first production staged in the Greek Theater. “Aroma” was reprised in 1911 in the first Greek Theater production open to the public and the first use of outdoor electrical stage lighting in the United States.

A production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 1915 was the first Shakespearean drama performed in the Greek Theater. It was a tremendous hit and was reprised several times over the next decade, along with “As You Like It” (1917) and “Twelfth Night” (1918).

“The Tempest”in 1926 was a new production for the Raja Yoga Players. It was designed to be a blockbuster. One of the last plays composed by Shakespeare, “The Tempest” is unique in his oeuvre on several levels. The story has no literary precedent. Castaways shipwrecked on an uncharted island by a magical storm confront their foibles and treacherous inclinations, unknowingly monitored and manipulated by the benevolent magician Prospero, his diligent indentured spirit Ariel and a host of fairies, sprites, nymphs, gnomes and goblins.

The Greek Theater was an ideal venue for “The Tempest.” “Perhaps nowhere else in the world could such a scene as described by the immortal Bard of Avon be so graphically reproduced, with every detail brought out in effect so realistic,” Don Short wrote in the San Diego Union. “While the lightning and wind whistling had to be artificial on this particular night, the real trees were there and the roar of the surf of the mighty Pacific beating against Point Loma headlands are real and were heard with distinct impressiveness.”

An ad for "The Tempest" as it appeared in The Beach News in 1926.

As always, the roles in the production were filled by Lomaland residents, particularly students of the Raja Yoga academy and university. Madame Tingley never identified individual actors in her productions, preferring to shield their privacy.

“Katherine Tingley is a great dramatic director; the students of the Theosophical university under her leadership are uncommonly gifted actors,” theater critic Austin Adams declared.

The Beach News wrote: “It was a production that New York or London could not have surpassed, and it was staged right here on our own Point Loma by Point Loma students under the direction of the leader of a worldwide movement who has chosen Point Loma as her international headquarters. Truly, these facts are fraught with deep significance for the artistic future of this community.”

The Raja Yoga Players’ production of “The Tempest” was such a success that it was reprised the following year, along with another production of “The Eumenides.” Madame Tingley would again offer “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 1928, the final work performed at the Greek Theater by the Raja Yoga Players. Tingley died the following year in Sweden, shortly after being involved in a serious auto wreck in Germany.

The Woman’s Exchange and Mart designed and created all the costumes worn by the Raja Yoga Players.

With the demise of its leader, coupled with the stock market crash later in 1929, times became increasingly tough for the Theosophical community at Lomaland. Musical and theatrical productions were abandoned as the organization shuffled its priorities and had to sell its properties to satisfy creditors. The Raja Yoga school continued to operate through the 1930s, but by the early 1940s, the group had moved its base to more affordable digs in Covina.

The beautiful buildings at Lomaland fell into disrepair and the community became a thing of the past. Yet the Greek Theater remains, as magical a venue as ever, little used in recent times.

Eric DuVall is president of the Ocean Beach Historical Society ( OBHS board member Kitty McDaniel contributed to this article.

Gottfried de Purucker visited Point Loma in 1894, and in 1896 he met Katherine Tingley in Geneva where he spoke about the place. In 1897 Tingley bought a piece of land at Point Loma, and in February 1897 she laid the first stone for a School for the Revival of the Lost Mysteries of Antiquity (SRLMA). In 1899 Tingley moved to Lomaland, and in 1900 Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society (UBTS) also established their headquarters there. Agricultural experimentation was essential to the Lomaland community’s desire to be self-sufficient in all respects, and the group imported and tried many different types of plants and trees including avocados, oranges, and other fruit. Katherine Tingley’s goal was to serve fresh fruits and vegetables at Lomaland every day of the year.
In summer 1900, the educational arm of Lomaland, a Raja yoga school, was opened up. In 1901 followed an open air Greek theatre, a temple, in 1914 a college and in 1919 a theosophical university. Many other buildings were established including a hotel, a theatre, a textile factory, a joinery, a bakehouse, a publishing house and more. Vegetable and fruit gardens were planted. Around 60 percent of the community was female, and notable for this time, the same percentage was also represented in executive positions.
“Raja Yoga” meant divine union, and the educational goals of the school involved not only the intellect, but also moral and spiritual development. The Raja Yoga Academy was a boarding school; over 300 students lived together in group homes that were known as “Lotus Houses.” Children from poor families could go to school without paying any charges. The students also played classical dramas, as well as those of Shakespeare. Each student had to learn to play at least one instrument, so that after 1905 the first school orchestra of the United States could hold weekly concerts and go on tour.
A theosophical university was established in 1919. It offered courses in the humanities and in science, and was accredited by the state of California. In 1942 the university was relocated to Covina. The publishing house changed its name several times, it was called The Theosophical publishing company, Aryan theosophical press or Theosophical university press. In 1942 Lomaland was sold, and the Theosophical Society moved to Covina, California, near Los Angeles.

By 1900, the campus was dominated by the imposing Academy Building and the adjoining Temple of Peace. Both buildings were constructed in the Theosophical vernacular that included the flattened arch motif and whimsical references to antiquity. The buildings were topped by amethyst domes, which were lighted at night and could be seen offshore. The entrance to the Academy Building was dominated by two massive carved doors that symbolized the Theosophical Principles of spiritual enlightenment and human potential. These doors are currently located in the archives of the San Diego Historical Society. The sculptor, Reginald Machell, was educated in England, but moved to Lomaland with the community in 1896. The interior furnishings he carved for the Academy Building were influenced by the Symbolist style popular in Europe at that time. Machell also supervised the woodworking school at Point Loma. Agricultural experimentation was essential to the Lomaland community’s desire to be self-sufficient in all respects.

Lomaland had public buildings for the entire community and several private homes. The home of Albert Spalding, the sporting goods tycoon, was built in 1901. The building combines late-Victorian wooden architecture with historical motifs such as the modified Corinthian columnn (now shaped like a papyrus leaf) and flattened arches. The amethyst dome was restored by a team of scholars led by Dr. Dwayne Little of the department of history and political science in 1983.

The first Greek amphitheater in North America was built on this site in 1901. It was used for sporting events and theatrical performances. The tessellated pavement and stoa were added in 1909. The theatre was the site of a number of productions of Greek and Shakespearean dramas.

The educational arm of Lomaland was the Raja Yoga Academy, also established in 1901. “Raja Yoga” meant divine union, and the educational goals of the school involved not only intellectual formation but also moral and spiritual development. The Raja Yoga Academy was a boarding school; students lived together in group homes that were known as “Lotus Houses.”

Cabrillo Hall, which served as the International Center Headquarters, the Brotherhood Headquarters, and “Wachere Crest” building, was completed in 1909. It served as office for the Theosophical Society and as a residence for Katherine Tingley after 1909. It was originally located on the west side of Pepper Tree lane. Cabrillo Hall is currently the home of the Communication Studies department.

This multi-purpose structure was originally located just southwest of the Academy Building. It served a variety of functions that included telephone and mail services; in 1908 it was used as a display center for the Woman’s Exchange and Mart. The unusual truss design in the interior of the building emphasized the square and the circle, which were symbolic of heaven and earth.

Lomaland dissolved in the aftermath of the Great Depression and in 1942, the campus was sold to Coronado developer George W. Wood. The Theosophical Society staff and remaining students moved to Covina, California. Wood planned to use the buildings and site to create a 5,000 population housing district. However, due to limitations in the property transfer agreement and the dangerous condition of many of the buildings on the site, he was allowed to move in only 300 patrons. After Wood died, Dwight Standord helped purchase the property for the struggling Balboa University, a deal which was finalized on September 15, 1950.

That same year, Balboa University became affiliated with the Southern California Methodist Conference, changed its name to California Western University and relocated to Lomaland. In 1960, the failing Cal Western law school moved from its downtown location to Rohr Hall at Point Loma to join the rest of the school. The law school received accreditation from the American Bar Association in 1962.

In 1968, California Western University changed its name to United States International University (USIU). The law school, however, retained the name Cal Western. In 1973, the law school relocated from its Point Loma location to the current downtown campus and Pasadena College moved to Point Loma to replace it. USIU moved to Scripps Ranch and in 2001 it merged with California School of Professional Psychology to form Alliant International University. Pasadena College was renamed Point Loma College, then Point Loma Nazarene University, and remains at that location.

Cite This Entry

Emett , Mike. “Historic Lomaland.” Clio: Your Guide to History. April 13, 2017. Accessed December 26, 2021.


Greenwalt, Emmett A.: California utopia, Point Loma, 1897–1942. Point Loma Publications, San Diego 1978

Greenwalt, Emmett A.: City of glass, the theosophical invasion of Point Loma. Cabrillo Historical Association, San Diego 1981

Greenwalt, Emmett A.: The Point Loma community in California, 1897–1942, a theosophical experiment. AMS Press, New York 1979.

Hine, Robert V. (1953). California’s Utopian Colonies. San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library. pp. 33–54.

Streissguth, Thomas: Utopian visionaries. Oliver Press, Minneapolis 1999.

Whiting, Lilian: Katherine Tingley, theosophist and humanitarian. Aryan Theosophical Press, Point Loma 1919

Whiting, Lilian: Katherine Tingley und ihr Râja-Yoga-System der Erziehung. Buchhandlung für Universale Bruderschaft und Theosophie, Nürnberg o.J. (ca. 1920)

Gafford, George N.: Odyssey of a Law School. Mountain N’ Air Books, La Crescenta, CA, 2001.

Iverson and Helen Harris Papers MSS 130. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego Library.

Katherine Tingley gewidmete Sonderausgabe der Zeitschrift Sunrise mit mehreren Artikeln über Lomaland (pdf-Dokument, 3100 kB) German

Gottfried de Purucker gewidmete Sonderausgabe der Zeitschrift Sunrise mit mehreren Artikeln über Lomaland (pdf-Dokument, 824 kB) German

Artikel über Katherine Tingley und Lomaland in der Zeitschrift Das Forum (pdf-Dokument, 666 kB) German

Ellwood, Robert S. (1986). Theosophy : a modern expression of the wisdom of the ages. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House. p. 237. 

Judge, William Q. (1893). The ocean of theosophy (2nd ed.). New York: The Path. OCLC 262627129. Also republished, with errors corrected, as “The ocean of theosophy” (PDF). (online ed.). Pasedena: Theosophical University Press. 2011.

Carlson, Maria. No Religion Higher than Truth: A History of the Theosophical Movement in Russia, 1875–1922. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Ellwood, Robert S. (1986). Theosophy: a Modern Expression of the Wisdom of the Ages. Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Publishing House. 

Campbell, Bruce F. (1980). Ancient Wisdom Revived: History of the Theosophical Movement. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

Dixon, Joy (2003) [2001]. Divine feminine : theosophy and feminism in England. Johns Hopkins University studies in historical and political science. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Lavoie, Jeffrey D. (2012). The Theosophical Society: The History of a Spiritualist Movement.

Greenwalt, Emmett A. (1978). California utopia: Point Loma, 1897-1942.

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