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Planning Under Way for Balboa Park's 2015 Centennial Celebration

Nineteen hundred and fifteen was San Diego's most notable year in the twentieth century. The Panama-California Exposition held in San Diego that year put the small town in the southwest corner of the United States on the map and convinced some people, but not all, that its name was spelled S-a-n D-i-e-g-o and not S-a-n-t-i-a-g-o. – Richard Amero, from “San Diego Has its Year of Glory”

El Prado31915Official planning has started for a new year of glory for Balboa Park: 2015. The 2015 Centennial Celebration will be a year-long event to enhance and expand the current significance of Balboa Park and its institutions. One planning report calls for the Park’s cultural institutions to “Create the Extraordinary” through exhibitions and performances that reveal the Park as a hub of creativity and imagination.  Initial planning reports and presentations, as well as information about the steering committee, are now available on the Balboa Park website. More documents and details will be added to this site as the planning progresses.

While Balboa Park’s history goes back decades before the Panama-California Exposition—all the way back to when it was known as “City Park”—Park Ranger Kim Duclo emphasizes that the exposition had a far-reaching impact on multiple aspects of San Diego life. “That fair gave birth to so many things that are closely associated with San Diego, like the Zoo. The Zoo, which now almost everyone associates with San Diego, and the Navy: what would become the hub of the Pacific Fleet here was largely the result of the exposition.”

During the second year of the exposition in 1916, the Zoo’s first president Dr. Harry Wegeforth is said to have heard the roar of caged lions, prompting him to gather support for the formation of a Zoo in Balboa Park. The exposition also brought the creation of many of the Park’s most iconic structures, including the California Tower, Botanical Building, and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.  The San Diego History Center’s website offers articles and a postcard series documenting this transformative period of local history. 

OrganPavilion1915Ranger Kim says that walking through the Park can be like stepping through the 20th century. “What’s fascinating about the Park are the layers of history—the different eras. There are plants that go back at least to the Kate Sessions period and then the first structures like Marston House. Then we can look the first exposition, the 1935 exposition, and features added from the '60s through the '90s."

And now the future. Stay tuned to the 2015 Centennial Celebration site to learn more about what’s in store for this landmark year.

 Photos courtesy of the private collection of the San Diego Museum of Man