Friday, October 28, 2011

Built to Last -- For 18 Months

San Diego's Balboa Park began as 1400 acres of land set aside in 1868 by San Diego civic leaders and was known then as “City Park.”

The first steps in Park beautification were made in 1892, largely due to the con-tributions of Kate Sessions. She offered to plant 100 trees a year within the Park as well as donate trees and shrubs around San Diego in exchange for 32 acres of land within the Park boundaries to be used for her commercial nursery. Several popular species, including the birds of paradise, queen palm and poinsettia were introduced into the Park’s horticulture because of Sessions’ early efforts. She earned the title “The Mother of Balboa Park.”

The 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal and provided a major impetus for the creation of the Park as it appears today. Most of the arts organizations along Balboa Park's famous El Prado pedestrian walkway (shown on the right with the California Tower in the far left of the photo) are housed in Spanish-Renaissance style buildings constructed for the Exposition. It was one of the first times that this highly ornamented, flamboyant architectural style had ever been used in the United States.

The California Tower and dome were intended to be two of the few permanent structures designed for the fair. Other buildings (such as the Casa del Prado, right) along the El Prado Walkway, the wide tree-lined central avenue, were designed to be "temporary buildings."

The architecture of the "temporary buildings" was recognized, in the words of New York architect Bertram Goodhue, as "being essentially of the fabric of a dream--not to endure but to produce a merely temporary effect. It should provide, after the fashion that stage scenery provides — illusion rather than reality."

The Prado was intended to become the central path of a great and formally designed public garden. The fair's pathways, pools, and watercourses would remain while the cleared building sites would become garden. Goodhue emphasized that "only by thus razing all of the Temporary Buildings will San Diego enter upon the heritage that is rightfully hers" (Winslow, Carleton Monroe. The Architecture and the Gardens of the San Diego Exposition, 1916.)

(If we heard some historical references correctly, the temporary buildings were meant to last about 18 months beyond the Exposition's closing. As a host in the Visitors Center described these buildings, "they were held together by wire and newspapers.")

Goodhue and Carleton Winslow advocated a design that turned away from the more modest, indigenous, horizontally-oriented Pueblo Revival and Mission Revival, towards a more ornate and urban Spanish Baroque. Contrasting with bare walls, rich Mexican and Spanish Churrigueresque decoration would be used, with influences from the Islamic and Persian styles in Moorish Revival architecture.

For American world's fairs, this was a novelty. The design was intentionally in contrast to most previous Eastern U.S. and European expositions, which had been done in Neoclassical and Beaux-Arts styles, with large formal buildings around large symmetric spaces. Even the si-multaneous Panama–Pacific Inter-national Exposition in San Francisco was largely, though not exclusively, in Beaux-Arts style.

This mix of influences at San Diego proved popular enough to earn its own name: Spanish Colonial Revival and become California's "indigenous historical vernacular style."

After the Exposition, the original plan to remove the temporary buildings was met with considerable opposition. The decision to reinforce these buildings in order to save them was a popular one then and one which has provided much enjoyment to visitors over the decades since then.

Our walk around the Park took us past the Spanish Village Art Center where 37 working artist studios/galleries house over two hundred independently juried local artists including painters, sculptors, metal-smiths, and jewelry designers.

The Zoro Garden looked like a very peaceful place to just sit and listen to the sounds of birds--and silence.

This short walk only presented a glimpse of the Park's buildings.

It was time to stop and visit one of the museums. One in which we could take photographs.

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