San Diegans know Balboa Park as a family-friendly destination, but there was a time when part of the park was a bit more adult-oriented. For two years, Zoro Garden housed a nudist colony — a long gone memory, but one that can’t be kept under covers.
Like many parts of Balboa Park, Zoro Garden was built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. During the Great Depression, San Diego wanted to make itself a spectacle. This resulted in the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition to bring tourism + boost the economy. The movement revitalized parts of the city and added must-see shows, like the Zoro Gardens Nudist Colony.
Peeking inside the gates
In May 1935, individuals reportedly came from nature cults in Indiana, New York, Germany + Switzerland to San Diego (we’re guessing they packed lightly) to form the colony. District Attorney Thomas Whalen approved the display after an “undressed rehearsal, allowing the show to open.” Those who wanted the full monty could watch the show for 25 cents — $5.37 by today’s standards — but some spectators tried to sneak a peek between the slates in the surrounding fence.
What happened at the shows? The colony mostly read books, ate vegetables, played handball, and lived normal, naked lives — though some members would overdress in G-strings or loincloths. Occasionally the group performed rituals honoring their faux-ruler “Queen Zorine,” later Ruth Cubitts and then her sister “Queen Tanya.” Sometimes, in a truly bizarre display, a costumed robot named “Alpha” would abduct the queen to create excitement.
The end of an era
For the 1936 season, entry prices rose to 75 cents — $16.21 today — and the colony was receiving criticism. The attraction drew protestors, and soon, there were arguments among the nudists. In August 1936, the exhibit closed after a financial disagreement with officials leading the California Pacific International Exposition, and the next month the Exposition closed.
Don’t get dressed yet
It’s no secret that there are places in San Diego County where you can legally explore your inner-nudist, if you’re comfortable in the environment.