Located next to the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park sits a sunken, 1915 stone grotto that’s looks like something out of a fairytale. It is both whimsical in design and due to it now being a butterfly garden, has plenty of attractive plants and butterflies fluttering about.
The garden was intentionally planted to provide everything a butterfly will need through all stages in life. You can find plants such as milkweed, passion vine, lantana, sunflowers and more! This is also where two of the most beautiful, cascading ficus trees in the park grow You will know when you see them due to how stunning they are.
The garden has always had a bit of a naturalist side to it it turns out. In 1935-1936 during the Pacific International Exposition at the park, Zoro Garden was actually a nudist colony (although both men and women wore nude-colored bottoms).
It is said for .25 cents, you could enter the garden and spectate while the actors sunbathed, socialized, played games and even performed a quasi-religious play called “Sacrifice to the Sun God.”
If you didn’t want to pay to enter, no problem. Due to the many holes in the fence, spectators could peek through for free.
The colony was created by sideshow promoter Nate Eagle. His pitch for the attraction was that it was “designed to explain to the general public the ideals and advantages of natural outdoor life.” Although it should be noted that all of the nudists were actually hired actors and actresses.
“Healthy 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.” For many obvious reasons, Zoro Garden was the highest profiting attraction at the exposition.
The colony officially closed in 1936 due to alleged financial disputes with the Exposition officials. But even before their official closing, there was plenty of controversy surrounding them.
There were protests from the San Diego Council of Catholic Women, the Women’s Civic Center and the San Diego Braille Club. Despite many attempts, none of these complaints actually got them shut down.
Interestingly enough, in 2017 a group known as the Parkeology recreated the nudist colony at the same location. Mostly college-aged females frolicked around in skin-tight outfits meant to mimic being nude while the public gawked from above. I’m sure there was quite the variety of reactions that day.