Capitalizing on nature

Woven into these leaders’ belief in, and determination to prove, Blavatsky’s theory' about an innate spirituality of the region was an equally' strong faith in Southern California’s inherent marketability. This dual motive was wedded to both Lomland and Krotona from their inceptions. While the region’s “electricity” was undetectable to those without heightened sensory' capacities, the sea, cliffs, sky, mountains, flora, and fauna comprising the region’s natural world were decidedly observable. When surveyed, Tingley’s texts, as well as those by UBTS members writing for the community’s journals, form a paean to California’s natural world. Likewise, members of the Krotona community' described standing amidst palms, eucalyptus, and olive trees, and lush geranium shrubs as “high as one’s head,” while looking out toward the mountains on one side and the pacific Ocean on the other (Anon, in Ross 1989, 164). Southern California Theosophists emphasized the splendor of the region, the possibility' of a dream-like idyllic environment, both in seeking land to purchase and in the subsequent marketing of their communities. By' idealizing Southern California’s landscape, they merged the popular conception of the region as a dreamland with their esoteric idealization of the region. As such, they at once capitalized on and contributed to the emergent public conception of Southern California as a magical place of respite, leisure, and new possibility'.

As early as 1899, Tingley marketed Point Loma to those seeking restoration. Among the first residents of Lomaland was physician Dr. Lorin Wood. After meeting Tingley' in 1897, Wood moved with his family from the east coast to Point Loma in 1898 (M.C. 1944, 48). Tingley and Wood then collaborated to construct a “great house on the hill” - a 60-room building originally' intended to serve as a sanitarium and to house delegates for the 1899 UBTS World Congress (Palma 1903, 6). This building would become Lomaland’s centerpiece as it was ultimately converted into the Homestead and Academy. But in its first years, marketing materials referred to the building as the “Point Loma House” and positioned the site as a place of respite. One advertising flyer, for example, described the House as a space for those “desiring rest and change from daily care” and “seeking a restoration to health.” Visitors, this promotion claimed, would experience the “most equable” climate in the world and return to health through well-ventilated and well-lighted rooms, equipped with steam heat and updated, “scientific” plumbing (Woodand Oppermann 1899, n.p.).

The marketing of Lomaland as a site explicitly for restoration of one’s physical health was ultimately subsumed under the larger umbrella of holistic betterment. The spiritual intention of Lomaland is one reason why the descriptive rhetoric in Lomaland promotions moved away from purely physiological healing. A second reason, however, is that Tingley saw that the same qualities that drew spiritual seekers and the physically infirmed to Lomaland also appealed to tourists of all types. Tingley’s development of the Point Loma peninsula was part of a larger movement at the turn of the twentieth century to capitalize on the appeal of Southern California’s picturesque, and largely undeveloped, Pacific coast. In the San Diego bay, developers bought large, seaside areas of land for resorts, sanitariums, and utopian communities. Among Lomaland’s neighbors was the Hotel Del Coronado, a beach-side resort which opened in 1888. Indeed, Lomaland became a popular attraction for San Diegans: Tingley went so far as to facilitate visits to Lomaland for Del Coronado guests and San Diego residents and visitors could join a daily tour that shuttled them from San Diego proper to Lomaland (Smith 1909, n.p.).

In her 1902 essay, “The Life at Point Loma,” originally written for Los Angeles’s Saturday Post, Tingley underscored the virtues of California’s environment, specifically at Point Loma. She claimed the site had “natural advantages” including its climate, “picturesque beauty,” and “healthfulness.” To this list, she also included “its commercial possibilities,” indicating that the financial success of Lomaland was as much a priority as its residents’ and visitors’ spiritual renewal (Tingley 1908, p. 3). Furthermore, by using the word “natural” in categorizing and describing the site’s “commercial possibilities,” Tingley also merged Southern California’s landscape with commerce. Of course, she was not the first to capitalize on Southern California’s sun, sea, and air. What differentiates Tingley’s aims from those of a resort such as the Del Coronado was how she combined the region’s burgeoning leisure industry with Theosophy’s religious aspirations.

In building and operating Krotona, Warrington was less explicit in his desires to attract tourists. But he and the planning committee nevertheless saw the possibility of a site whose beauty would appeal to, and be accessible to, a larger public. Warrington’s interest in seeking a site near Los Angeles and marketable as such emerged from his communications with Besant. In the same letters in which she advised Warrington to seek a plot of land in the spiritually active zone spanning Mexico and the Southwestern United States, she ultimately implored him to make his decision based on “business and soil advantages” (Besant to Warrington in Ross 1989, 45). Besant communicated to Warrington that from both the occult and financial perspective, Mexico, “where land is cheap,” would be the ideal location for this new community. Ultimately, Besant determined that, while perhaps less expensive from the outset, Mexico would not provide enough possibilities for income, and therefore would neither sustain nor grow the Theosophical community. Besant’s stance indicates that, for her, logistical and economic feasibility ought to be considered in equal measure with the spiritual potential of a site. After considering a plot in south Texas, she later avowed that a site in California would be both spiritually and commercially superior.

In seeking land for Krotona, the planning committee specified that they desired a plot of more than five acres, “slightly elevated above the immediate surroundings, from which the view of the mountain ranges will be inspiriting, and where, if possible, some of the snow-capped peaks may be clearly seen” (Warrington in Hardy 1920, 327). Additionally, the committee specified that they desired to be walking distance from a “car line affording frequent service into Los Angeles within 30 minutes’ ride” (Warrington in Hardy 1920, 327). An advertisement for Krotona echoes this rhetoric, emphasizing the site’s proximity to “Beachwood Park, the foothill paradise of Hollywood” where in the “thrill of the hills” one could enjoy an atmosphere free of frost, fog, and dust. Fulfilling Besant’s commercial prophesy, Krotona essentially operated as a property development company for this area. Warrington partitioned a lot adjacent to Krotona into 235 parcels, which he sold for between S250 and $1,500 with down payments ofSIO (Beach 1912, 758). Rather than providing housing for Krotona residents, he targeted potential Theosophists, or Theosophically inclined buyers, by advertising in the Theosophical Society’s journal, The Theosophic Messenger. He imagined that each buyer would then build their own residence on their lot. This had the dual outcome of providing Krotona with income and forming an intimate and localized Theosophical community.

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