PLNU, our beloved cliff-side university, with unmatched views, gorgeous architecture and what seems like thousands of speed bumps, wasn’t always the oasis that we know and love today. In celebration of Homecoming Week, we wanted to take a look back at how a small Bible college in Pasadena became a top liberal arts university in sunny San Diego.
“It started with 41 students at Pacific Bible College in 1902,” Ryan Library archivist Linda Hasper said. “Then there was this really cool, Victorian-style ranch house called Hugus Ranch that Dr. Phineas Bresee purchased and turned into what later became known as Pasadena College.”
The original vision for this college, formed by a group of six women who called themselves the Bible College Prayer Circle, was simply a Bible college centered on the Nazarene denomination. However, Bresee had bigger plans: a liberal arts institution that still practices Nazarene values, but is also committed to offering high-quality academics and whole-person education.
In 1964, W. Shelburne Brown became president of Pasadena College and later helped move it to Point Loma, San Diego, in 1973, where it became Point Loma Nazarene University.
“We bought the campus from Cal Western University, but the older houses here had been built between 1900 and 1910 by the Theosophical Society,” Hasper said. “Dwayne Little, who was a history professor for PLNU at the time, did a lot of research on the Society and contacted them and actually built up a really good relationship with them.”
The Theosophical Society is a utopian community which resided on the site of PLNU’s main campus from 1900 to 1942. Led by Katherine Tingley, a prominent Theosophist, the group came to Point Loma to live out the philosophical and humanitarian goals of Theosophy. Tingley envisioned a “White City” on the western edge of North America oriented toward India, which she then named Lomaland.
The society’s love of Victorian style, antiquity and Indian spirituality can be seen even today in much of PLNU’s architecture.
“The columns, the flattened arches, the spiral staircases at Mieras Hall and Nicholson Commons and leading up to OSV, those are all inspired by the Theosophical Society,” Hasper said. “In fact, they are the ones who planted most of the palm trees on and around campus.”
Throughout all of its transformations, PLNU has remained constant when it comes to its Nazarene roots.
“Even with the changing world, the college has tried to keep Christ at the center. We are all changing and we are all growing, but that has remained a constant,” Hasper said. “The original vision of Phineas Bresee was to equip young people to go out and impact the world in and for Christ.”