Balboa Park
Museum district

San Diego, CA

January 11, 2003

We wound down our trip through California with a visit to the fabulous city of San Diego.  A person could spend weeks, even months, in and around this coastal metropolis without seeing everything of interest. However, there is a special bright spot in all this beauty. Up in the hills north of downtown lies a large  park. This is perhaps the most fantastic 1 and 1/2 square miles in California outside of Disneyland. Home to 15 museums, various performing art centers and international culture organizations as well as the famed San Diego Zoo; Balboa Park boasts of being the largest urban cultural park in the nation.  We spent several days wandering the streets surrounded by some of the most impressive architecture I have every seen.  Understanding the need to keep these articles short, I will only touch on various aspects of our time there.  For me, the most spectacular part of the park were the buildings that house the museums and other centers.  They were created for the famous 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition, celebrating the opening of the Panama canal, with substantial additions for the 1935-36 California Pacific-International Exposition, held to boost the local economy during the depression. Most of the art organizations along Balboa Park's famous El Prado pedestrian walkway are housed in magnificent Spanish Colonial revival style buildings. In contrast, the buildings around the Pan American Plaza at the southern end of the park were created for the 1935 Exposition and present a fascinating architectural history of the Southwest, from early Aztec influence through the Mexican style. We wandered down the long arched walkways and peered into the many courtyards.  Flowers abounded from every corner.  Here and there was some little treasure of art set off in its own world which seemed to be perfectly balanced to compliment it.  Add to this the typical bright, warm, sunny day with a balmy breeze drifting across the corridors and we had the absolutely perfect day.  Fantastic architecture and wonderful museums were not the only attractions. Balboa Park is also renowned for its horticultural treasures on its 1200 acre manicured landscape.  Its eight gardens, which include its internationally recognized Japanese garden and its award winning rose garden, transformed these once desert like hillsides into an emerald oasis made up of thousands of flowers, and other plants, some exotic, and some common to this part of the country.  For the more exotic, there is one of the world's largest wood lath structures.  Built in 1915, it contains over 2100 permanent tropical plants along with seasonal floral and plant displays, including, would you believe, a carnivorous plant bog.  No insects around this place. As we traveled down the walkway we had to pick and choose between all the exhibits.  We decided to check out the Museum of Photographic Arts. In the 1960s San Diego was called "the movie stepsister". A newspaper article noted that San Diego was often used but never represented in the movies.  Balboa Park could  easily be transformed into a South American republic or someone's castle.  The Hotel del Coronado  has often appeared as Florida.  Fallbrook looked enough like the French Countryside for several films. San Diego, which is the 7th largest metropolitan area in the United States, offers great opportunity for film makers. Within a short time you can drive from the ocean to a desert area or into the mountains.  Most any terrain needed can be found in the immediate area.  During the silent era San Diego was used by at least 30 movie companies for countless movies. The park was used to represent a Florida mansion in Citizen Kane and a castle in India for the movie "The Rains Came".  The museum was filled with old memorabilia, such as dresses worn by leading ladies, and of course the large old posters of film that somehow were related to the San Diego area.