“I am starting a Botanic Garden on the foothills of the Sierra Madre,” wrote Dr. Victor B. Hall in a letter to magazine The Peacemaker in 1902.
Long before vegetarian restaurants seemingly dotted every corner, members of the “Victor University of Vitaphysics” purchased a 40-acre tract in the Linda Vista neighborhood of Pasadena and established “a colony of anti-meat people.”
“They don’t believe in war, killing, beefsteak or shoes,” wrote the L.A. Times on April 28, 1904.
Hall, an unusual physician who had migrated from the East, ran a “vitarium” on Washington Boulevard, where he held “classes on the special subjects pertaining to health,” according to the Pasadena Evening Star. “Dr. Hall has about six families to accompany him in his venture, with the promise of many more later on,” wrote the paper. “He says there are about five hundred families in other parts of the country, waiting for orders to come either to his colony or that of Dr. Schaeffer in Coldwater Canyon near Hollywood.”
Simple tent living was to be the goal, though the Pacific Medical Journal noted, “the colony contemplates erecting a temple. Here the Vitas are to live and worship.”
Hall’s proposed community was met with curiosity by the local press, with particular interest paid to its unconventional spiritual beliefs. “Some of the items of belief are that God is the energy of every atom,” explained the Star, “and the cause of that natural union that constitutes what the doctor calls the ‘Cosmic church of creation.’ [Dr. Hall's] society stands for peace and harmony in all things and believes that wars will cease when his ideas are promulgated as they should be.”
The Lancet-Clinic, a Cincinnati medical journal of the day, was more skeptical, calling the enterprise “graft” and “a new crusade for the acquisition of American dollars.”
The other families who accompanied Hall remain a mystery, but two women who joined him garnered the interest of the national press: Williamina M. Burnett and Ginevra Falkenburg. On February 19, 1907, the Reading Times of Pennsylvania published a profile of the pair and their simple Pasadena lifestyle:
“One meal a day is enough for a woman. At least, that is what Miss Williamina Burnett and Miss Ginevra Falkenburg assert, and, having practiced this self denying ordinance for something over a decade, they have a right to an opinion. Williamina is forty, Ginevra forty-three, but neither is said to look a day over twenty-five, and the two, though not related, have lived together like sisters for twenty years. These singular persons walk five miles to work every morning, work eight hours at some manual labor in the city of Pasadena and then walk five miles back, to dine on whole grains, fruits, raw vegetables (skins and all) and nuts. Bread they consider a curse to humanity. Eggs they look on with acute suspicion. Potatoes are dropsical, diseased growths. Meat is a crime. Salt, pepper, sugar and spices? Never! There are no plates or dishes or glasses on their table. The fruits, nuts and grains, which are all they have to eat anyway, are served in baskets and eaten probably with the fingers, while not even water is drunk except between meals. The repast finished, Ginevra and Williamina go to bed at once, for they regard exercise after a hearty meal as a most baneful practice, and from dark to daylight they sleep on cots near open windows. In their quest after nature these ‘girls’ have discarded many superfluities of feminine apparel and have built for themselves a charming one room bungalow at a cost of $350. People laugh at them, but they laugh back, and from all appearances Williamina and Ginevra have the best of it, in spite of their names.”
The two women seem to have adopted a raw vegan diet similar to one practiced at a vegetarian colony in Anaheim. In 1880, a writer for the Los Angeles Herald reported on the Anaheim colony, which might have served as a precedent for Dr. Hall’s:
“They eat neither flesh, fish, nor fowl, nor eggs, nor the products of the dairy. They take what grows above ground and ripens in the sun, as it comes from the hand of Nature. All such substances, they aver, contain a spiritual essence, which goes to build up the body and is the clothing of the soul after quitting mortal life. […] By cooking or be-deviling fruits and grains with fire, you kill the vegetable and set free and dissipate in air those finer volatile principles so precious and necessary to perfect the human being.” (Los Angeles Herald, October 31, 1880)
The vegetarian colony took a hit during the 1909 Linda Vista fire. On August 12 of that year, the L.A. Times reported, “the bungalow of the Misses Falkenburg and Burnett, the two young women who lead the simple life in Linda Vista, was destroyed, notwithstanding the valiant efforts of a score of residents to save it. Miss Burnett was painfully burned on the neck in attempting to cross the wooden bridge at the south end of the town.”
A 1912 city directory still shows Ginevra Falkenburg and a Williamina Burnett living at “Park Av, Linda Vista,” but it’s unclear whether Dr. Hall’s peculiar colony survived along with them.