Friday, October 2, 2009

A Sunday in the Park

San Diego's Balboa Park.

Cousin Karen and her husband Richard suggested attending Balboa Park's Sunday afternoon Organ Concert. John D. and Adolph Spreckels donated the Spreckels Organ, the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ, to the City of San Diego in 1914 for the Panama-California Exposition. This unique organ contains 4,530 pipes ranging in length from the size of a pencil to 32 feet and is housed in an ornate vaulted structure with highly embellished gables.

Since 1917, San Diego has had a civic organist, who performs at these free weekly Sunday concerts. We heard Dr. Carol Williams, the current San Diego Civic Organist, perform.

We also learned that Karen and Richard have two grandsons who auditioned and were selected to perform on this organ. Quite an honor and quite a thrill.

A short distance away, Austria Day was being celebrated with dancing, singing (including yodeling), and ringing hand bells. (It's so hard to find good yodeling these days.)

Each Sunday one of some two dozen countries with "homes" in the Park hosts a similar program relating to the culture, foods, and customs of that country.

Around a courtyard are houses staffed by representatives of the countries rotating as hosts of these Sunday afternoon programs. The House of China is shown on the left.

In 1868, civic leaders set aside a 1,400-acre parcel of land on a scrub-filled mesa overlooking the "New Town" (the current San Diego downtown area), which became known as "City Park."

In 1892, in exchange for 32 acres of land in the northwest corner of the Park for her commercial nursery, Kate Sessions offered to plant 100 trees a year for 10 years within "City Park" as well as donate 300 trees and shrubs for use elsewhere in the City. She became the early designer of the Park's beautiful landscaping and was given the name "the Mother of Balboa Park."

We spent several hours over a two-day period just admiring the architecture. Most of the arts organizations along Balboa Park's famous El Prado pedestrian walkway are housed in Spanish-Renaissance style buildings constructed for the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition. It was one of the first times that this highly ornamented, flamboyant architectural style had ever been used in the United States.

Hospitality House (photo above and photo right) houses the Visitors Center, a police storefront, offices of cultural and educational organizations, and a public restaurant.

"City Park" was changed to "Balboa Park" in 1910, the result of a city-wide naming contest. The winner chose the name because the Park offered a wide view of the Pacific Ocean and explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa was the first European to sight the Pacific Ocean.

In 1926 the San Diego Museum of Art (left), the region's oldest and largest art museum, was founded.

The California Tower and Dome, which house the San Diego Museum of Man, and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion were built for the 1915 Exposition--two of the few permanent structures designed for the fair.

The San Diego Museum Association was established in 1915 as a museum of anthropology-its name changed in 1942 to the Museum of Man.

In 1996, Mingei International Museum [founded in 1978, and dedicated to the understanding and appreciation of "art of the people" (mingei) from all cultures of the world] and the San Diego Art Institute: Museum of the Living Artist both came to Balboa Park and opened in the newly reconstructed House of Charm.

We were drawn to this whimsical sculpture (left) at the entrance to the Mingei.

The Casa del Prado houses the San Diego Botanical Foundation, San Diego Civic Youth Ballet, San Diego Floral Association, San Diego Junior Theater and the San Diego Youth Symphony.

This courtyard is located within the Casa del Prado.

I don't know upon which of the buildings this decorative work appeared, but it recognizes Father Junipero Serra, the founder of many of California's missions.

The former Food & Beverage Building [today's Casa de Balboa (left), which houses the Balboa Art Conservation Center, Museum of Photographic Arts, Museum of San Diego History & Archives and San Diego Model Railroad Museum], the Casa del Prado, and the House of Charm were built for the 1915 Exposition as temporary wood-and-plaster structures and have all since been reconstructed.

With its 15 museums and nearly as many restaurants and food trucks, Balboa Park would provide enough to see and eat for three weeks of visits.

(Note to self: Just return when it's cooler.)

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