The Court of MysteriesKenneth and Raymond Kitchen
519 Fair Avenue, Santa Cruz, 95060, United States
About the Artist/Site
“The Court of Mysteries” was built in the 1930s by Kenneth Kitchen, with the help of his brother Raymond; both were brick layers and stone masons by trade. Local lore holds that the Kitchen Brothers only worked on constructing the temple at night by the light of the moon; perhaps to avoid building inspectors since they lacked a building permit, or perhaps for more esoteric reasons. Nestled between the middle-class homogeneity of post-war tract houses, the temple blazes out as if from another world.
Adorned with ornate inlaid abalone shells infused with astrological motifs, with an aesthetic borrowed from the architecture of Hindu yogi temples, the original function and intended use of the temple remains a mystery. According to neighbors, Kenneth Kitchen’s interests lay in the Far East. The inside of the temple was said to have had sparse furnishings, save for Persian rugs, the mattress where Kitchen slept, and a library filled with books on Eastern philosophy.
Kitchen believed in harnessing energy from the forces of the moon in the same way farmers follow the lunar cycle when planting crops. Centered in the middle of the “Gate of Prophecy” at the temple’s entrance is a large triangular tablet that features symbols of a moon and stars. Inside the temple there was once a matching astrological plaque over the fireplace, although the plaque was destroyed over the years and now only an empty outline remains. Kitchen is said to have believed that when the axis points of the moon and the stars from the two plaques came into celestial alignment, it would signal the end of the world followed by “An Age of Peace.”
It is also believed that Kitchen was trying to block German submarines during WWII with a device housed in the small tomb structure on the side of the property. Inside the small enclosure is a well where the device was submerged, allowing him to listen to signals coming in from nearby Monterey Bay. The two obelisks toward the front of the property were supposedly built as antennae. One tower was said to have received signals from the submarines, and the other one was to have sent out signals causing impairment and disruption to enemy crafts. Some say that Kitchen’s spying device was so successful that the government caught on to his scheme and absconded with his building plans, forcibly removing him to Pensacola, Florida. For whatever reason, Kenneth Kitchen left his mysterious temple behind in 1953 and never returned.
From around 1962 the temple was deserted, although a homeless caretaker was allowed to reside on the property free of charge to help deter loiterers and vagrants from causing damage. The Court of Mysteries was for sale for decades, but in early 2016 it was finally sold by Karim’s son to a San Francisco consultant involved in the tech industry and his artist wife. They have said they want to restore the property and create a family compound and studio, while keeping the original structure visible and possibly even open it for tours, subject to municipal zoning laws and approval.
Jo Farb Hernández update 2016
Update: The Court of Mysteries was purchased and restored in 2016. As of August 2021, it is for sale.
SPACES Archives Holdings
Map & Site Information
519 Fair Avenue, 95060
Latitude/Longitude: 36.9549891 / -122.0450729
Santa Cruz, California
San Jose, CA
San Jose, California