The Little World That Almost Was

“When the delegation got back to Macon, my mother wondered where her little boy was. Well, he was still in California, under the care of Doctors Winkler and Van Pelt. I went to the local school in Roseville for the year, and then, in 1900, K.T. started the Raja Yoga School in Point Loma. A little later she moved the international headquarters of the Society from New York to Point Loma.”

The barren hillsides were soon transformed as Tingley began the first of many construction projects. She commenced by performing a kind of radical surgery on the three-story sanitarium erected the previous year by Theosophist Dr. Lorin Wodd. Tingley had the building’s inner patio capped with an enormous aquamarine glass dome, forming a rotunda nearly a hundred feet in diameter and eighty-five feet in height. From the corners of the building rose three additional brilliantly colored domes.

But the homestead, as Tingley first called it (later known as the Academy), was not the most impressive building on the site. Directly west of it another structure was built. Originally, this was known as the Aryan Memorial Temple – dedicated to the memory of Helena P. Blavatsky and William Q. Judge. Later, it was rededicated as the Temple of Peace. Glistening white, the circular building reached skyward in two tiers, and was magnificently topped by a voluminous dome of amethyst-tinted glass. Tingley, the amateur architect, had a bent for what can only be described as freakish Oriental bizarre; she later had the domes of both buildings crowned with glass spheres nearly twenty feet in diameter, and on top of those she added ornamental flaming hearts. From across the bay, and to the citizens of San Diego, Point Loma began to look more and more like a colony from another planet. At night, from out at sea, the illuminated spires were beacons far more eye-catching than the government’s lighthouse.

Other buildings went up in rapid succession, and within a year the place was a major tourist attraction. It became almost customary for guests at the Hotel Del Coronado to take the tour, complete with Theosophical guides, of the Lomaland complex. Later, a bus tour was added.

“I remember all that very well,” says Harris, “I remember the building of what was then called Students Group Home Number One – which was built with the collaboration of A.G. Spalding (the sporting goods magnate and a major Tingley supporter) and his wife. I also remember, very distinctly, the ‘Lotus Homes’ being built – small, octagonal buildings with a little dome (skylight) at the top. Lotus homes number one through ten went up during my early school years there.”

Unfortunately, none of the major buildings survive today. A parking lot on the grounds of Point Loma College occupies the site of Homestead Temple. Of these, only a short flight of concrete steps remains. An impressive Roman gate at the intersection of Catalina Boulevard and Lomaland Avenue can only be viewed in yellowed photographs, and an Egyptian gate that once graced the corner at Dupont Street shares its fate. But the Greek theater Tingley built, the first one in the U.S., still exists – though in a rather dilapidated state. A few other structures remain. One of these, the Spalding Home, is known today as Mieras Hall, the administration complex of Point Loma College. Its exterior spiral staircase (to the roof) makes it very hard to miss. Katherine Tingley’s home is now Cabrillo Hall, the college’s music department. All of the Lotus Homes but one, now used for storage, are gone. Of course, the lush foliage surrounding the campus is still there; all of the trees were planted by Theosophists. Tingley’s efforts were not confined to building strange-looking homes and planting hundreds of trees however. The education of children was one of her major interests. The Raja Yoga (Royal Union) system of education she developed was meant to direct student toward a balance of all the faculties: mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional.

She formally opened the Raja Yoga School in 1901, with classes held in the Homestead-Academy building. In its heyday the school boasted more than 300 pupils, many of them from disadvantaged areas of the world – particularly Cuba. Most of the students, besides learning the standard subjects, were taught typing and shorthand as well – even in elementary school. In high school they studied history, English, physics, and chemistry – certainly not a remarkable curriculum today, but at the turn of the century it was very unusual.

Perhaps even more unusual for the time were the extracurricular activities. In addition to common athletic pastimes such as baseball and basketball (football was considered “too brutal”), the students were encouraged to study music and art. One of those students was Emmett Small, who, with Iverson Harris, was among Raja Yoga’s first students. Today, seventy-four-year-old Small lives a short walk from the Lomaland community where he grew up. “K.T believed it was very important that everybody have that experience, whether they had any particular skill or not. You’d find people learning the clarinet who didn’t have any great musical talent – but they learned it.

“I started, first, to learn the violin; I wasn’t any good at it and what’s more, I didn’t like it. I dropped it and took up the clarinet, and after I learned that, I learned to play the cello. I liked the cello a hundred times more than the clarinet. I still have my cello here, in fact.”

Harris concurs: “We had dramatic training, too, and frequently presented the plays of Shakespeare in the Greek theater – As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Twelfth Night. We had choral, orchestral and play rehearsals in the afternoon, and – quite frequently – in the evenings we’d listen to lectures by older people. We even put on our own original entertainment, such as the Aroma of Athens, a drama composed at Point Loma.”

Theosophical doctrines, an ancient philosophical mélange which, it is claimed, gave rise to Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and a variety of other beliefs, were not taught at the Raja Yoga School, for Tingley knew she could attract the interest of more well-to-do parents by advertising that the institution was nonsectarian. (The tuitions they paid were a major source of income to Lomaland.) Classes were short; students rarely spent more than three hours in session. The children, even the very young ones, did not live with their parents at Lomaland, but lived with their teachers in the ten Lotus Homes – an arrangement that created much controversy in San Diego. Though discipline was strict (students as well as adults were expected to perform their duties in silence), so corporal punishment was meted out. Lomaland was no place for the shiftless or lazy, as schedules were tight, packed with the business of operating an idealistic community.

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