Glimpses into San Diego's Past

by Richard W. Amero

Balboa Park Articles

San Diego High School and Balboa Park San Diego’s High School District has occupied Balboa Park longer than any other public institution. This occupation has been of great benefit to the School District and to the students it serves, but of lesser benefit to Balboa Park and to the public for whom the park provides rest and recreation.

The Jacobs/CIVITAS Plan for the Plaza de Panama The only feasible alternative is the bypass bridge. The question then is whether this change in the appearance of the bridge and of the grounds in Balboa Park that would be used for a bypass road is worth re-creating the “historic” 1915 appearance of the Plaza de Panama.

James Britton II (1915-1983) was an acute critic of art, architecture and social planning in San Ciego City and County. His thinking had been shaped by the writings of Plato, Emerson, Lewis Mumford, and by the dreams and works of San Diego architect Lloyd Ruocco. Britton's writing were controversial because they evoked thought, challenged prejudices, and presented visions of a tomorrow that could be if people heeded the advice of their best thinkers and planners. While he often pretended he knew all the answers, he was modest enough to admit that other people sometimes knew better. His views are especially interesting in the 21st century partially because of what Britton anticipated and partially because of environmental and ecological problems that he did not anticipate. It is fascinating to see how his strategies for coping with overpopulation became a fear as he saw the catastrophic consequences of the human explosion not only in San Diego but throughout the world.

John Nolen, Toward A Biography John Nolen was born in Philadelphia in 1869 and died in Cambridge, Mass. in 1937. During his life he laid out plans for cities and towns and designed park systems in all parts of the nation, including San Diego.

City Planner John Nolen and Balboa Park. Nolen's 1926 plan for San Diego was adopted as the official plan by the San Diego City Council and has remained as a guide for city planning ever since. His plans for Balboa Park were, however, "more honored in the breach than the observance."

John Charles Olmsted's Wrangle with the Panama-California Exposition Corporation: John Charles Olmsted had worked with his stepfather on the 1893 Exposition and had laid out the grounds for the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, Oregon and the 1909 Alaska-Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle, Washington. With such a formidable reputation, it was inevitable that the San Diego Buildings and Grounds Committee would appoint Olmsted at a fee of $15,000, to be the landscape architect for the Panama-California Exposition.

Samuel Parsons, Jr., Landscape Architect (1844-1923) Finds Xanadu in San Diego: When in October 1902 Parsons accepted the commission to design San Diego's City Park, his landscaping firm had more than enough business. Due to his training at Yale University and the education he had received from his father, Samuel Parsons, Sr., a noted horticulturist, he had a firm grasp of the identity and nature of many plant species and he was confident that his abilities as a landscape architect were as good as or superior to those of his competitors.

The Cabrillo Bridge, CALTRANS, and Balboa Park: At the outset, the Panama-California Exposition Corporation established a maximum cost of $150,000.00 for a bridge that would span Cabrillo Canyon and extend Laurel Street east through Balboa Park.

The Highs and Lows of the Botanical Building in Balboa Park. For all its limitations and diminutiveness no one in San Diego wants to do away with the Botanical Building. History tells us that City Bureaucrats proposed doing this in 1944, but even in its most dilapidated state in the years following World War II, San Diegans wanted to hold on to the building.

San Diego Zoo Eyes Florida Canyon (updated 12/99): In late 1997 and early 1998, the San Diego Zoo revived its plan to occupy the west slope of Florida Canyon. This time the plan was grander and more destructive than the 1970 plan. It called for the construction four six-level garages for 8,000 vehicles to replace the Zoo's parking lot and to enable the Zoo to expand to the edge of Park Boulevard.

San Diego Zoo Expansion: After a year of review by a panel appointed by the City of San Diego consisting of representatives of neighborhood and veterans groups, delegates from city committees, and city staff, the San Diego Zoo on May 17, 2001 made public a plan for expansion prepared by landscape architect Steve Estrada. Estrada had been a critic of the zoo's plan to expand into the area occupied by a nondescript building set aside as a Veterans War Memorial Building.

US Naval Hospital and Balboa Park: The greatest Naval Hospital expansion in Balboa Park began after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The hospital went from 56 buildings with a bed capacity of 1,424 in 1941 to 241 buildings covering 247 acres with a bed capacity of 10,499 in 1945.

Whose Park? - Balboa Park: The word "people" has a high level of generalization. As such it is synonymous with human being. It means everybody who has or had the characteristics of a human being. This excursion into abstractions may be of assistance to those who refer to Balboa Park as a "people's park" or "a park for the people"

History of East Side Balboa Park: Before the coming of landscape architect Samuel Parsons, Jr. to City Park in 1903, all the park had a similar appearance. The Ladies Annex in 1889 & Kate Sessions in 1892 had tried to develop the 6th (Park) Avenue side of the park. Property owners in Golden Hill, under the leadership of Matt J. Heller, and in Mulvey Canyon between Date & Juniper on the southwest side of the park in the early 1900's planted areas near their homes with semitropical trees & shrubbery & put in arbors, terraces, bridges & fountains. After the playground movement accelerated, the property owners in the Golden Hill area added recreational facilities for children & young adults.

Balboa City, Balboa Park, Balboa Laundry and Vasco Nunez De Balboa In the teens and twenties of the 20th century it became popular for promoters and developers to use the name "Balboa" for cities, parks and businesses. San Diego began the trend when backers of the Panama-California Exposition decided to name their in-town City Park after the explorer. After that, many cities and businesses picked up the name.

Other San Diego Articles

John Nolen and The Future of the San Diego Waterfront In 1978 City Planning Director Glenn Rick noted that the introduction of “hotels, restaurants, yacht clubs and associated uses” along the waterfront reduced the amount of “desirable waterfront land.” To architect Sam Hamill, in 1960, it was “intrusions by the Navy and industry” that spoiled the effect of “a grand [waterfront] entrance” to San Diego. These criticisms applied to developments north of B Street leading to La Playa and Point Loma, though the criticisms were also applicable to unseemly developments south of B Street. (It is worth noting that the E Street terminus for commercial development that John Nolen had recommended in his 1908 comprehensive plan for San Diego had shifted to B Street in his 1926 comprehensive plan. Business and political interests, acting in behalf of themselves and the U.S. Navy, had maneuvered the change.)

Horton Plaza Park: From its beginnings, proponents of Horton Plaza Park use have divided into those who favored using the park as a passive setting for plants and trees and those who wanted the plaza to be an active center for civic events. Both groups compromised to reach their goals, but, as pressures mounted, control of plaza development shifted from one group to the other.

Eviction at Cupa: Before 1795 the Cupeno Indians of Southern California occupied a roughly circular valley about ten miles in diameter at the headquarters of the San Luis Rey River. A narrow range of mountains separated the valley from the desert. Cupenos called the valley Hakupin and Ephi, Spaniards and Mexicans the Valley of San Jose, and Americans Warner's Ranch. Cupenos resided in two villages, Cupa or Agua Caliente, near today's Warner Springs, and Wilakalpa at San Ysidro. Although Cupenos went from one village to the other and married between villages, the villages were politically independent.

Mexican-American War in Baja California: The Baja California expedition was neither costly nor bloody and its outcome had no effect upon the conclusion of the war. Naval historians give the Baja California incursion more attention than general historians because the conduct of the war sheds light on the characters of naval commanders and reveals the weaknesses of an over-extended, under-supported naval operation.

Amelita Galli-Curci, San Diego Nightingale: Galli-Curci, hailed as "the world's greatest coloratura soprano" in the 1910's and 20's, spent her retirement years during the 1950's and 60's in Rancho Santa Fe and La Jolla.

Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink, A Legend in Her Time: Mme. Ernestine Schumann-Heink’s life had the before-and-after quality of a fairy story. Born in poverty, she became rich. Considered plain and plump in appearance, on stage she was regal and impressive. When she began singing in public, at age 15, no one thought she would become a professional singer. When she moved to San Diego, at age 48, music critics in Europe and the United States hailed her as "the world's outstanding contralto." It was her mixture of engaging and contrasting qualities that made Madame Schumann-Heink a legend in her time

Christmases in Early California: Christmases have always touched the heart. So it was during California's first Christmases; so it is today.

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