Historic Greek Theater at Point Loma Nazarene University
The historic Greek Theater at Point Loma Nazarene University is a remnant of Lomaland. Courtesy of the university

A exhibition opening this week at the San Diego History Center explores the surprising artistic legacy and other achievements of the century-old Theosophical community on Point Loma.

In 1897, Katherine Tingley established the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society, nicknamed Lomaland, on a chaparral-covered ridge over the ocean. The dusty plot of land was transformed into a vibrant “White City” that became a center of learning, culture and social reform.

The Utopian community dissolved during the Great Depression, but several buildings remain, now incorporated into the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University. However, it was the artistic and cultural legacy that endured.

The Path of the Mystic: Art and Theosophy at Lomaland,” which opens Thursday and runs through April 19, showcases the remarkable cultural legacy of artists like Grace “Gay” Betts, Maurice Braun, Benjamin Gordon, Leonard Lester, Marian Plummer Lester, Reginald Willoughby Machell, and Edith White.

In addition to creating fine art, Lomaland artists also produced furniture and interior decorations for the community’s unique structures, as well as illustrations for Theosophist publications. Others produced craft-based goods that were sold in the Woman’s Exchange and Mart, which provided income for the community.

Many artists also taught at Tingley’s Râja-Yoga Academy, a progressive school where students were instructed in the conservative academic art tradition.

The exhibition features a selection of artwork, objects, photographs and archival documents that bring to life an unlikely Utopian experiment that profoundly shaped San Diego’s cultural landscape.

“The History Center has significant holdings related to the Point Loma Theosophical community — it’s exciting to be able to dig deep into our collections and share the cultural legacy of Katherine Tingley’s “White City” with our visitors,” said Curator Kaytie Johnson.

The History Center in Balboa Park is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The suggested minimum donation is $5.

“Theosophical Institute Buildings, Point Loma,” by Marian Plummer Lester. Oil on canvas, 1920. Courtesy of the San Diego History Center

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.