Balboa Park today is huge. It has many marvelous buildings and fantastic museums, but it wasn’t always this way. A single event changed this park from an empty, open space into a grand park- one of the best in the world. That event was the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.
Balboa Park started out as a city park in San Diego. From 1872-1909, it was mostly empty space. However, 1n 1909, it was suggested that Balboa Park hold an exposition marking the completion of the Panama Canal. It was believed that an exposition would make the park famous and also be good for commerce. San Diego business leaders funded the huge project to turn San Diego from a small, virtually unknown city with a population of 40,000 people into a memorable experience. In 1910, the Park was renamed Balboa Park, honoring the name of Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the first European to see the Pacific Ocean.
The park needed many changes in order to make it look exposition-worthy, so the town plaza was moved, and the main architect of the project, Bertram Goodhue, decided to create a new building style-the Spanish Colonial Revival Style. The new style and buildings were well received by the public, and the style became popular.
On December 31, 1914, the Panama-California Exposition began, with Balboa Park full of visitors. Even the Liberty Bell was shown briefly. The park drew 3.7 million guests over the course of two years. This year is also the 100th anniversary of the Panama-California Exposition!
It was suggested that after the Exposition, all of the new buildings would be taken down due to their instability. However, it was later agreed on that Balboa Park’s buildings remain, and that they be strengthened to last longer.
I took a copy of this post to the 2015 Del Mar Fair, and it won first place and a ribbon there!
These buildings still stand today, and I’m glad they do. Many of the buildings added over the years now house museums, such as the museums of Art, Man, Air & Space, and my personal favorite, the Natural History Museum. These buildings represent a massive project to completely transform San Diego from an unknown Western town into a major city, one of the best-known in America. I’ve been to Balboa Park before, many times, and all I can say is that it’s magnificent in every way.