Taormina’s Historic Past and Continuing Story: A Unique Spiritual Community in Ojai

Taormina’s Historic Past and Continuing Story: A Unique Spiritual Community in Ojai

Helene Vachet
Minneapolis: MCP Books, 2016, xxii + 148 pages, paper, $17.95.

Nestled in a sea of trees next to Krotona Institute of Theosophy in Ojai, California, is the neighborhood of Taormina, originally envisioned as a retirement community for Theosophists. Since its founding, Taormina has experienced many ups and downs. The changes and developments it has experienced are the subject of Helene Vachet’s delightful account.

The book begins by explaining that Ruth Wilson was a Theosophist from St. Louis who had a dream for a Theosophical retirement community. She obtained small sum of money as the result of a car accident, and used these funds to develop such a community in the 1960s. She experienced difficulties obtaining land in Ojai, but she persisted, eventually purchasing property adjacent to Krotona and naming the community after the Sicilian town connected to both Pythagoras and J. Krishnamurti. Wilson was partial to a modified French Norman style of architecture. As a result, the vast majority of the homes in Taormina display this style to varying degrees.

Taormina is no longer exclusive to Theosophists. In 1983 a California appellate court ruled that Theosophical affiliation could not be required for home ownership in the community. Since then, numerous non-Theosophists have called Taormina home. Vachet profiles many of the residents in three large chapters divided into early, current, and recent residents respectively. Consisting of over sixty pages, these brief biographies include figures such as James Perkins, former president of the Theosophical Society in America, Gina Cerminara, a prominent author whose titles include a biography of Edgar Cayce, and many artists and writers who have found inspiration there. The book is divided into eighteen chapters, and includes a foreword by Joy Mills and an introduction by R.E. Mark Lee, trustee of the Krishnamurti Foundation. The back matter addendum includes a historical timeline, a timeline of when houses were built, endnotes, architectural details, and credits for over 120 illustrations and pictures in the chapters.

Overall, this volume summarizes the history of Taormina, not focusing on the details of the community’s contentious past, but instead aiming to give a general survey of its challenges over the last few decades, and an illustration of who has lived within it. At times, this history read more like a Taormina who’s who, or a 150-page neighborhood tour brochure for someone who just relocated into the community. Nevertheless, this volume not only recaps the major events that molded the community, but also brings Taormina to life by highlighting those who call or have called it home. This book is a welcome contribution, introducing a Theosophical community of which few are aware. I recommend it to all with an interest in the history of Theosophy in America or intentional religious communities.

John L. Crow

John L. Crow is a faculty member at Florida State University studying American religious history and online learning.