Posted by: cantmisssd | January 4, 2010

Zoro Garden


Today, visitors to Zoro Garden- sunk between the Fleet Center and Museum of San Diego History towards the East end of El Prado- are there either by accident or for the butterflies. Monarch, sulfur, and swallowtail butterflies populate the shady, sculpted hillside garden, relying on the nectar plants from larvae to adulthood and creating an idyllic natural setting.

But when the garden was created for the California Pacific International Exposition’s opening seasons in 1935, it was quite a different story. Most of the recognizable buildings along El Prado were already built before the 1935 Exposition, with most of the park’s new additions being sited along President’s Way to the south. The Exposition’s attractions ranged from the fantastic to the absurd (1 ton Mechanical Man?) to the sensational. The Zoro Garden Nudist Colony fit squarely in the last category.

Channeling the spirit of Thoreau with a strong Depression-era twist, the rocky grotto was “designed to explain to the general public the ideals and advantages of natural outdoor life.” The mostly naked men and women (with a few loincloths and g-strings added for good measure) lounged around in the sun, imagined nature-worship ceremonies, and generally put on the show that was promised with the minimum of additional effort or complication. Just south of the San Diego Zoo, the Exposition program promised “[h]ealthy young men and women, indulging in the freedom of outdoor living in which they so devoutly believe, have opened their colony to the friendly, curious gaze of the public.” By all accounts, the men were mostly incidental and, in the first season, mostly absent. But that of course would not stand.

As one might expect, there were a number of people who weren’t particularly enchanted by the nudist grotto. In noble Olympic fashion, ‘amateur nudists’ complained that the purity of their lifestyle was being corrupted by the professionalized nudists that populated Zoro Garden (professional nudists are known by a few other names of course). Pearls firmly clutched, groups like the San Diego Council of Catholic Women, the Women’s Civic Center and the San Diego Braille Club (make your own cracks about blind people protesting nudity) managed to convince the city manager to ban indecent show for the second, 1936 season of the Exposition. That meant more men were added before money problems (as they always do) shut down the Zoro show near the end of the 1936 season. Somehow though, that still allowed for a Zoro denizen to ride naked on a donkey up and down the Prado.. under police supervision of course. Wouldn’t want things to get out of hand.


Zoro Garden’s original purpose would probably getting in trouble these days, and generally you should probably skip the naked burro riding (with or without police supervision) that was reported from the Exposition, but it’s still a gorgeous spot tucked away among the museums and the Prado crowds. When the heat rises and the butterflies are up and out in force, there’s no better spot to take a break from your day in the park.

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