On Balboa Park

by on May 17, 2011 · 43 comments

in Culture, Environment, Popular, San Diego

Editor: The following post appeared as a two-part series in one of our fave new blogs, Two Cathedrals.

by Lucas O’Connor / Two Cathedrals / May 16-17, 2011

The importance of preserving history is rooted in the conversations that we’re able to have as a result: who we are, where we came from, how it helps point us into the future. It’s an extremely difficult balance, and usually the forces of indifferent change-for-profit are much better equipped, leaving defenders of our shared history little choice but to throw themselves fully into every check in the process. That process — of storytelling, of sparking conversation, of bringing the community together to continue the process of growth — must constantly evolve to remain both relevant and effective. But often, the forest can be missed for the trees, and the most fundamental elements are lost.

As wrangling continues over proposed changes to Balboa Park, the most basic aspiration — of a grand public space for San Diegans and visitors to play and learn, and of a catalyst for the appreciation and ongoing creation of San Diego culture — is increasingly lost in the struggle over control of the decision-making process and the long-term ramifications of opening up the park to changes. Rather, the starting point must be that the park has been fundamentally compromised in its mission for decades by giving over so much space and planning primacy to cars. From through traffic to surface lots to stunning failure to integrate into surrounding neighborhoods or public transportation, the park has functioned as a driving destination first and a community asset only after.

It’s easy to focus on the reclamation of Plaza de Panama from cars as a bold step to remedying this situation (and it is), it doesn’t fundamentally wrestle with the broader, long-term course of Balboa Park, the conversations it should inspire, and the ways in which the space can drive San Diego’s evolution. In the same ways that park programming has adjusted to the changes of the community it reflects, serves and shapes, consideration of the long-term outward appearance and function must involve a much more comprehensive review of how San Diego can and should interact with the park. This means considering how to make it more accessible, more compelling, more closely tied to the threads of innovation and progress already winding through San Diego’s many neighborhoods. And more specifically to hte historical preservation challenges, how to help root the constand re-invention of San Diego in all that has let us to this point.

Click on image for a ledgible version.

When park preservationists mount strenuous objections to the proposed bypass extension of Cabrillo Bridge, their arguments (thus far) largely fail to address the underlying goal of speaking to our collective history and experience. The historic views of Cabrillo Bridge are largely inaccessible, and many of the building fronts have long been shielded from view. A pedestrian-only western approach to the park changes the ways in which surrounding neighborhoods interact with the park, and must be considered within the limited access from the northwest and southwest. At a time when the general momentum to do something provides a unique opportunity to do a great many things, this is needlessly restrictive of opportunities to better connect the park to Hillcrest, Bankers Hill, Downtown, and Little Italy. The opportunity to greatly improve the physical and functional accessibility of Balboa Park is also an opportunity to greatly expand the park’s ability to connect visitors with its heritage and wide range of cultural opportunities — presumably the highest ideal of having Balboa Park in the first place.

Outside conservative preservationists have warned that altering Cabrillo Bridge could risk federal support for the park as a whole, which may or may not be true but absolutely warrants careful examination. Likewise, any other proposed changes that would threaten the legal or financial footing of the park must be given particularly careful scrutiny. Ultimately though, the ideal lies both between both of these perspectives and stretches well beyond. It means that accepting that a bypass added to Cabrillo Bridge does not inherently detract from anyone’s understanding of, appreciation for, or conversations about our shared San Diego history. That preservation exclusively for its own sake purposely ignores the inescapable dynamism of living — especially together.

Ultimately, the two primary sides of this debate lay bare the unconventional lines that define the issue of development and community. On the one hand, preservationists occupy the most hyper-conservative (with a small c) ground, insisting on sameness for the sake of sameness. In the same document, preservationists espouse a pro-public transit de-emphasizing of cars in the function of Balboa Park, then turn around and lobby for the continuation of free parking. Of course people would prefer that free things remain free, but this is essentially an argument in favor of perpetuating a car-centric transportation model. Calls to make Cabrillo Bridge pedestrian-only doesn’t account for the ancillary problems with such a limited approach: no parking capacity increase in Bankers Hill (for some reason, Bankers Hill doesn’t want a major boost in customers, apparently preferring its vacancies), and shunting all eastbound Park traffic either through downtown or Hillcrest — both of which are already gridlocked for hours a day. The aspiration to draw park patrons via public transportation is an admirable one, but there’s no suggestion of how this would be accomplished.

This incomplete solution extends to the existing Jacobs plan. Like preservationists, the Jacobs plan struggles to reconcile the demands of the current car-centric reality of San Diego and the aspiration to integrate non-car spaces and access. It would be both unrealistic and inappropriate to expect plans to update the park to include larger plans to improve and expand public transportation access and integration into the surrounding neighborhoods, but that doesn’t mean the update plans shouldn’t take these issues into consideration. More than an isolated one-off project, the Jacobs-driven project could serve as a catalyst to drive other regional improvements if it more consciously designed to do so.

This means understanding that maintaining a flow of cars through the park does not solve the essential failing of the current design but rather maintains Balboa Park as a car-centric destination. Cabrillo Bridge could absolutely be closed off to be pedestrian-only, but it only fulfills its promise if it’s coupled with spurred investment in Bankers Hill- both in terms of access and commercial offerings. It means that whatever comes of the bridge, any change to the western approach to the park should be made with an eye towards creating a more accessible shot from the waterfront, Old Town, and Mission Bay.

It means that if significant public money is going to be invested in revamping and expanding parking on the south side of the park, it should be designed overtly with an eye towards a major eventual extension of public transportation up the Park Blvd corridor. It means that trams are fantastic, particularly if they run not just between parking lots and the center of the park, but also into Hillcrest, North Park, Golden Hill, South Park, and Downtown to mitigate the lack of direct connections between those communities and the park. Not only does it bring residents closer to the park, it brings tourists closer to the businesses around the park.

The realities of what there is money and political will to create cannot be overlooked, and will eventually do more than anything to shape the final outcome. But skipping past the fundamental goals and eventual aspirations is the easiest way to lose track altogether of why everyone came together in the first place. To connect, to remember, to inspire; to contextualize, to inform, to enjoy. We won’t get there piecemeal.

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard W. Amero May 17, 2011 at 11:26 am

I agree with much of what you said. Certainly we should all try to contextualize the existence of so many cultural institutions, a lively profession theater in the center of the park, an attractive up-to-date and educational zoo, and a golf course and so many other physical and recreational attractions. I agree that the park institutions have not been overly respective of the aesthetics and meanings of the original exposition buildings which they have tried to obscure and, in some cases, demolish. You don’t actually object to the bypass bridge but leave it sort of hanging in the air (what a place for a bridge!). Your map with all the parking spaces now taking up so much of the central core is highly revelatory. It may be folly or wishful seeking to long for a car-free central plaza, as it was in 1915, but because I have seen so many historically meaningful car-free plazas in Europe and Mexico, I believe it is worth a try. Along with the open-space Spreckels Organ Pavilion it would add cohesiveness to the city. We sometimes forget that if it were not for John D. Spreckels there would have been no Panama-California Exposition. I also think the Spanish-Mexican theme of the original 1915 design was a tribute to this city’s past and a gesture of friendship and open-arms to the countries to the south. San Diego was not an Anglo Saxon country in 1769 and, like it or not, it is becoming more pluralistic and more of a melting-pot today. And so it should be..


Lucas O'Connor May 17, 2011 at 10:13 pm

I remain ambivalent about the bridge, and frankly see merits and failings on both sides. I don’t know that a bypass is particularly productive or necessary, but I also don’t think that preservationist opponents have made a compelling case.

The ultimate point is that, without a broader context for the role of the Park overall, neither side is going to be able to make a compelling point (at least to me). Unless the case for changing or preserving the park can be explained within the context of positively driving and integrating changes in the rest of the San Diego community, it just falls flat.


Patrick McArron May 18, 2011 at 10:48 am

Lucas, I was ambivalent about Cabrillo Bridge until I came to the conclusion that access to the Park is NOT all about the car. It is about the pedestrian. I would direct your attention to my take on this by following the link to my notes on this topic. The cost and method proposed by Dr. Jacobs has not been properly scrutinized nor is it necessary, in my humble opinion.


Bruce Coons May 20, 2011 at 10:43 am


I would welcome the opportunity to sit down with you and have a discussion on the global issues related to the park. We agree with you the Jacobs plan seeks to solve a single issue in a very expensive backward looking and draconian way. That is our more over arching objection to the plan. This discussion tends to get mired in the details due to the nature of the battle. The Precise Plan was developed over 9.5 year public process, looking at the bug picture including the Park to Bay links. Jacobs wants to through it all out the window. We are not married to any one solution and believe there are many that would work. The Precise Plan has by far the largest consensus though. Fundamentally funneling more and faster traffic and parking into the very heart of the park seems like the worst way to go.


Lucas O'Connor May 20, 2011 at 1:48 pm

I’d be happy to. I’m very conscious of being outside of the current debate and the machinations of how we’ve collectively arrived at this point. While much of the discussion here has been focused on the details (understandably), my focus on this issue as with most others is finding better ways to connect individual efforts with the broader discussion of what San Diego is and where it’s going. I’m also not married to any solution, nor inherently opposed to any solution.

I’d be particularly interested in exploring why the broader implications and long-term buy in hasn’t been a more prominent part of this discussion in general, particularly because it seems as though this debate has generally involved such a narrow slice of the San Diegans who have a vested interest. I’ve yet to discuss it with a single person who had even heard of this, which seems like a fundamental failure regardless of what plan makes the most sense.


Dan Soderberg May 20, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Lucas, I share your concern about people having not heard about this issue. Forgive me if I make my points rather passionately and laden with detail, but it is sometimes hard getting people’s attention–I do want more people to hear about it!

I got involved in civic activism for the first time when I was 16 (55 now). Then got caught up in getting my degree and career. In 2007 I renewed my interests in community issue and doing a lot of volunteer work. In 2008 I got involved in the City Council race in District 3, and spent countless days and weeks knocking on doors as a precinct walker discussing with voters city issues and policies.

It was quite amazing to discover how many people had no idea who their city council person was or even what district they live. Not exaggerating! So I’m always concerned about the importance of people getting information that effects their daily lives and the quality of life issues in San Diego. And to have people discuss issues. Pros and cons. Point, counter point.

I’m a fourth generation Californian, a native San Diegan, and my family tree in San Diego goes all the way back to Captain Henry Delano Fitch, San Diego’s first permanent American citizen, first storekeeper, and early Mayor. So from that background I have a strong care and passion for history, and what happens to our city. It is one reason I volunteer so much of my time to community.

Most of the historic architecture in my lifetime in San Diego demolished–except for what SOHO has saved. So I’m proud to be a part of that effort to keep what what little have left from disappearing. Through that involvement I became Chair of the Neighborhood Historic Preservation Coalition.

But getting back to my point about wanting people to know about this subject–and other important civic issues as well–is something I’m trying hard to more shed light upon. By writing in forums like this. And I made videos to inform and engage people. http://sohosandiego.org/video/panama2/protectingnationaltreasure.html

Unfortunately in San Diego, so much of the decision making in years past has not been transparent, has not included community input, and far too often is done that way on purpose.

One bright exception to that is when the Balboa Park Master Plan was developed. In that case there was a meticulous process that involved not only the planners, but city staff and the community who had a seat and voice at the table. It was clear that the client in that case was the people of San Diego. Today the client is Irwin Jacobs. I could go into more detail, but suffice to say I have a real problem with that. And that there have been no negotiations, compromises, or significant changes in their project since it was unveiled last August.

As you know I could go on, but I wanted to share at least those thoughts since you expressed your concern about people not knowing these issues. Thanks.


Bruce Coons May 20, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Great what is the best way to arrange this? My SOHO e-mail is: bruce.coons@sohosandiego.org. I’m not sure how people have missed this issue as it has been featured multiple times is virtually all known modern and ancient forms of media and communication except possibly carrier pigeons and telegraph, but with the fractured nature of news today I guess it’s always possible. I have also been amazed by the people who don’t know of the issue. We never had this much attention on an issue like this.


Dan Soderberg May 25, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Lucas, We’ve just learned Caltrans is not the slightest bit ambivalent about the bridge. In fact they take it one step further than we have. They identify the bypass as an impact to their own Cabrillo Freeway Historic District. Caltrans has just told the City they need to avoid such impacts to this important and iconic historic bridge and district. Their letter is carefully worded but the bottom line is the Jacobs plan doesn’t have their blessing, and their recommendation is clear. Design your project another way.


Lucas O'Connor May 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Would love to learn more about what that actually means in practice. How much influence does Caltrans have on the National Register of Historic Places? And I’d really like to know more about how the history of the 163 through Balboa Park has been made relevant to anything else in San Diego. Seems to largely underscore the arbitrary nature of historical designations within the prism of potential relevance versus in-practice relevance. Put another way, historical sanctity requires the application of that history somehow.

Separately and admittedly academically, it strikes me that making a freeway built in the 60s a crucial historic landmark has more to do with lobbying than objective historic merit.


Dan Soderberg May 17, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I appreciate your discussion towards the end of your essay(s) where you talk about the issues of public transit. And I’m glad you pointed out the incomplete solution in the Jacobs plan.

But early on I have to take issue with some of your perceptions.

You said preservationists largely fail to address the underlying goal of speaking to our history and experience. Maybe you meant to say the Jacobs plan fails to do that. It is after all an enormous bridge, road, and parking structure development project that is unprecedented in park history since 1915 and 1935. The huge amount of cutting, grading, soil removal, changes in elevations, pouring of concrete and spreading of asphalt, is astonishing. In what is being called a celebration of the 1915 Panama California Exposition, there is precious little about the Jacobs plan that speaks to either 1915 or 1935. It is very modern and extremely clashing.

Sorry to see you’ve bought the argument presented by the Jacobs people that “the historic views of Cabrillo Bridge are largely inaccessible, and many of the building fronts have long been shielded from view.” The archery club which has utilized the canyon there for the past 50 years would beg to differ with you. Their view of the historic architecture is fine. However on the other hand they see the bypass bridge severely limiting both the view of historic buildings, but also will hinder their access so severely, it will effectively put them out of business. The 70 year history of that canyon as an archery range clearly is a history that was not accounted for or addressed in the Jacobs plan.

Overgrown landscaping is a reversible condition. Pruning, trimming, thinning is not an expensive answer to restoring historic viewscapes. In fact that process already began several years ago when the Parks Department began removing dangerously tall trees from the park. Those viewscapes are on their way to being restored anyway. One thing is for sure, a modern appendage bridge across the face of the historic buildings has to be considered permanent. Ruining one part of Balboa Park to improve another is a far cry from the holistic solution this resource deserves.

Your description of preservationists “insisting on sameness for the sake of sameness” is a bit of dismissive sloganeering. Preservation is about recognizing the value and greatness of our historic resources, how they enrich our lives and culture. How they teach a history that points better decisions for the future. And we see within those assets an integrity that is seldom equaled and probably never surpassed today. Far too often those who do not understand or appreciate historic architecture typically come up with ideas and plans of far less caliber than what is found in the original.

You are correct that preservationists do espouse a pro-public transit solution, but to say preservationists are lobbying for the continuation of free parking is not at all right. Our concern is not whether parking should be free or not in the narrow sense, but in the larger sense we are asking what happens when you have a paid parking building surrounded by a veritable sea of free parking. You create a situation where people will drive in search of a free parking spot long before handing over $5.00 or $10.00 to park their car. That creates more traffic and parking issues than before.

There are just as many preservationists who would support paid parking as those who who support free parking. But the political reality in San Diego is every time it has been suggested we have paid parking at Balboa Park, a firestorm of public protest has arisen. To protect their lot, the Zoo has stated if one part of the park becomes paid parking, then they will have to charge also. Creating a patch work of free vs paid parking would cause nothing but trouble for the surrounding neighborhoods because people will go there in search of free parking.

In terms of your concerns about the result of limited west-side park access being exasperated traffic and parking issues in Bankers Hill, Hillcrest and Downtown, you don’t know that scenario would play out as you describe. It certainly didn’t play out that way when the Cabrillo Bridge was closed to traffic for over a year during the retrofitting.

Preservationists support implementing the Precise Plan because it allows for a draw down of our dependence for automobile access from the west side. Once people are accustomed to having the east side as the entrance to the park, (as they did when the bridge was closed) we believe it can be demonstrated that opening the Cabrillo Bridge to pedestrians, either part time or full time, is an obtainable goal that will allow the park flourish as never before. One thing is for sure. If the bypass bridge is built, you will never see Cabrillo Bridge opened as a pedestrian zone.

It is disconcerting that the Jacobs plan is even being considered. An almost identical plan was drawn up an option when the Balboa Park Master Plan was created. Through a careful vetting process that not only included planners, but also City staff and the community, the bypass concept was rejected. It was rejected because of exactly the same reasons we’re talking about today. The severe visual and architectural impacts it will have on a National Landmark. But also the cost. As the San Diego Zoo has aptly pointed out, spending 40 million dollars on project that does nothing to solve the parks overall traffic and parking problems is a bad cost to benefit ratio.

–Dan Soderberg, Chair, Neighborhood Historic Preservation Coalition


Lucas O'Connor May 17, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Thanks Dan. Certainly sparking more discussion is a major part of my goal here. Take this more or less sequentially.

First, I haven’t “bought” anybody’s account of the views. I at least drive through the park every day and spend recreational time there more than once a week. For the vast majority of park users and visitors, the views and facades in question never enter into the park-going experience.

You fail here as have the previous arguments that I’ve seen (if I’ve missed some, more than happy to be educated) to explain how the proposed changes of the Jacobs plan would be detrimental to the understanding or appreciation of Balboa Park’s history or its role in the ongoing changes in our society. While my terminology itself may have been casual, the point behind it is not: just as those who seek changes must justify those changes, those who seek preservation should be expected to justify the merits of preservation.

I would frankly love to have this conversation because I want this conversation to always be happening in San Diego, and am not at all adverse to being turned around on it. But “just because” not only is not justification, it’s a disconcerting reflection on the conversations we are (or perhaps are not) having around the historical legacy that so many have fought to preserve.

If I wasn’t clear in the original post, let me be here: I have no inherent objection to closing Cabrillo Bridge to vehicle traffic. In fact, I’m still entirely open to both of the current proposals. Fundamentally though, I think both plans have fallen short of their opportunity to be drivers (no pun intended) of more far-reaching changes that would be much more proactive than reactive. And part and parcel of this, discussion has gotten bogged down in details that distract from the whole.

Given the realities of the financing for the proposed Jacobs plan, the issue at the end of the day isn’t really the cost-benefit of a bypass. It is, however, relevant to the discussion of the parking structure. On this point, I certainly agree that dropping paid parking into a sea of free parking is a problem. However, since the SOHO report that I cite specifically notes public sentiment that Balboa Park parking should remain free, I noted it as part of the issue. Frankly, my preferred remedy to dropping paid parking into a sea of free is to transition the free to pay. I understand the political challenges this faces with the public, but especially if the goal is to promote non-car access to the park, eventually there has to be some system of incentives and disincentives.

In particular, this is why I’m disappointed to see such limited effort from anyone in this process to taking concrete steps to spur integration into the broader public transit system. Everyone is aimlessly in favor of more and better used public transit, but a blueprint for how any proposed changes will actually tie in to this goal remains mostly absent. As I noted, this debate should not and cannot substantively incorporate regional transit development wrangling, but not even seeking to influence the same is a missed opportunity.

At the end of all this though is a pretty simple goal: I want to bring back into this conversation the big ideas, the fundamental aspirations, and the opportunity to proactively expand the role of Balboa Park in the community. And I think everyone, no matter the changes that end up being approved, would benefit from an in-depth analysis of what we want the park to be, and how much more it could be.


Dan Soderberg May 18, 2011 at 1:07 am

Lucas, I have been in front of hundreds of people now–community groups, planning groups, and non profits–since November showing and discussing how absolutely hideous this clash of modern construction is when juxtaposed with the beauty of a Spanish Revival setting and National Register Historic Landmark. Quite frankly most people get it. At all public hearings I have attended the ratio is about 10 to 1 against this proposed madness.

Concerned citizens, such as Bea Evenson and Sam Hamill, went to great care and trouble to nominate Balboa Park to the National Register of Historic Places. El Prado was given the highest national designation possible as a historic district. This was done because great damage had already been done to the park through what you call “ongoing changes in our society.” Destructive plans and proposals dating all the way back to the time when Gertrude Gilbert and George Marston were fighting them off.

The reason why it was put on the National Register was not to obtain a fancy title or bragging rights. It was because of the protections and guidelines that come with it. That is why the Committee of One Hundred spearheaded the nomination effort.

Since you fail to understand what is so destructive about this project, a good place to begin reading is the National Register nomination itself. Part of that document deals with identifying the significant character defining components of the historic district. Paramount in the entire discussion is the ensemble of buildings that will be effected by this incompatible clash of modern construction. Precisely it talks about the Cabrillo Bridge, its approaches, and the the California Quadrant. It discusses the importance of the outer walls of those buildings which are designed to have the appearance of a hilltop Spanish fortress.
It specifically points to a design pattern modeled after the outer walls of San Gabriel Mission.

Trees do not change architecture. What will change that character is the demolition of over 70 feet of the historically designated approach wall of the Cabrillo Bridge to accommodate the appendage. Trees or no trees what will also change is an unobstructed architectural view of what the original architects wanted us to see. Again, that is why designation was sought to begin with. For that sort of protection.

The fact that you don’t see that side as you enter the park doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever explore the historic sight lines depicted in dozens upon dozens of historic photos, renderings and drawings–including Bertram Goodhue’s self described “iconic perspective.” Yes there are trees, but there are several good viewing locations. My friends in the archery range know of some as well.

The architects worked with extreme care and effort to create a grand ceremonial entrance to the park. This is why the National Register specifically identifies the elements of this long poetic line that leads visitors into the park. It is the Cabrillo Bridge, its approaches and guard stations that bring you to a graceful archway before you enter the interior of El Prado. No, from that perspective you won’t be able to see the San Gabriel Mission walls. But if there’s a bypass bridge constructed there you will certainly notice that. The grand ceremonial arched entrance will be visually polluted by a jarring traffic intersection. San Diego has countless traffic ugly intersections, we shouldn’t put one there. Balboa Park has only one ceremonial grand entrance. Let’s keep it the way the original master architects designed it, and let’s preserve their genius.

This project is detrimental to the understanding or appreciation of Balboa Park’s history in that it is a visual and aesthetic degradation of how generations before us got to view, enter and experience the park. Balboa Park is after all the grandest vision ever created on San Diego soil. Degrading that vision by tossing out and ignoring rules and guidelines created for the treatment of historic properties defeats the whole purpose of designating the park to begin with. The City of San Diego Historical Resources staff has already publicly issued a list of how this project violates. We as citizens should be paying close attention. To paraphrase one of our founding fathers, it’s a National Landmark. If you can keep it.


John Rippo May 17, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Your points are good and stimulating; they recall to me what San Diego should have done years ago and failed to do. I mean the adoption of the 1908 Nolen plan that would have transformed Date and Cedar Streets into a Spanish-style paseo, linking the harbor to the park and opening a gateway from the bay front to the plaza. Limited budgets stalled that plan; the car culture finished it for good. Later attempts to resuscitate the idea in ’38 and ’39 were pre-empted by WWII and the freeway that cut through those streets finished the original idea. Never the less, better access to the park and to all the best elements of the city need a careful re-think, especially since the days of the private auto seem to be numbered. As for the Jacobs plan, what the hell are they thinking? The best solution would have been to park a parking garage at Marston Point and connect it to the park with the same kinds of “flying buckets” used at the Zoo for the past fifty years. Too bad no one in power has that kind of imagination, but that has been a hallmark of San Diego “thinking” since the end of World War I.


Lucas O'Connor May 17, 2011 at 10:18 pm

It’s part and parcel of the concept that Scott Lewis has been discussing at VoSD recently- the ‘dissolving city’ that’s increasingly (or perhaps still, as you note) unable to come up with functional plans that work across multiple communities. The resulting piecemeal approach often produces a nonsensical result.

Balboa Park is uniquely positioned to transcend that problem, given its role as a cultural anchor and its influence on so many surrounding neighborhoods. It’s quite possible (indeed, likely) that the capacity doesn’t exist to take advantage of this opportunity. But it’s important to at least be aware of it if/as it flies by.


Frank Gormlie May 17, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Lucas, this post was picked up by google news.


Bruce Coons May 21, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Hi Frank,

My friends and I were there filling up that big hole at night, during the jetty construction. I was also at some of the early protests that the OB Rag arranged against inappropriate development in OB. I grew up in OB and Loma Portal. I’m glad to be back living in the area and to see you back at work on the Rag. We are still fighting the same fight, not much changes.


Frank Gormlie May 21, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Hey Bruce – welcome back! Come visit any ol’ time!


Richard W. Amero May 18, 2011 at 12:27 am

Forgive me for all not being able to attend all the meeting about BALBOA PARK as I am eighty-seven years old and living in a retired assisted living facility, which means I am not surrounded by the notes that I accumulated during my fifty year study of Balboa Park which ended in the year 1999, Among other brings Balboa Park will ill-planned for an exposition as it did not foresee how the growth of automobiles would impact the park. Most of the Exposition buildings were built to last three years and were then to be torn down. Architect Bertram Goodhue was upset about this as the temporary buildings did not represent his finest work. We can see what Goodhue had in mind for permanent buildings by looking at the Pasedena Institute of Technology, But San Diegans held on to the buildings and, in the aggregate, they represented a blend of Spanish Colonial and Spanish Renaissance features that were generally better then the plain outsides of buildings in Spain but not of the native Indian exuberance,love of color, and imagination shown in buildings in Mexico,,which were cruder but much more expressive , dynamic, and humorous.. Most of the buildings had a religious designs which in San Diego were modified, not always successfully, to look like secular versions of religious ttableaus. It was a sad time when San Diego lost the most memorable and picturesque of these buildings and, as a result, the Plaza de Panama was forever disunited.. There has been talk that the bypass ramp will be the worse thing that happened in Balboa Park in 50 years.. This is nonsence and an scare tactic: worse than the crosstown freeway, worse than the Timken and the west wing of the Museum of Art, worse than the U.S. Naval Hospital in Florida Canyon which had the support of Bea Evenson, head of the Committee of 100. In a large measure people have already decided how they want to enter Balboa Park and that is by automobiles on the west and east sides and in the middle of the park on Park Boulevard. Cabrillo Bridge is adaptable to both automobiles and pedestrians. It is not true that the bypass road as suggested by Mark Johnson has been rejected before. If you doubt my word ask Vicki Estrada, who while she thinks otherwise, is an honest women who conducted the public reviews seeking for a way to get cars out of Balboa Park’s plazas.. I find it ironical that the archers who use the west side of the Park on both sides of the Cabrillo Bridge would need a non-archery spokesman to speak for them They are capable men who are not bashful about expressing their views. I find it hard to believe that the Bypass Bridge which is off to one side would interfere with their activities. They were moved from a flat surface at the entrance to Balboa Park where their activities were far more dangerous. They also have another range on Morley Field.
Ultimately the City Council will decide this issue and my hope is that as of now they have not compromised their integrity.


Dan Soderberg May 18, 2011 at 1:54 am

Richard, you are so completely wrong about your bypass bridge history. Vicki Estrada spoke before Citizens Coordinate for Century 3, a full house, and provided great detail about the previously rejected project. She said it was very similar to the Jacobs plan except instead of a curvilinear plan it was angular. She said it was rejected for the very same reasons it should be rejected now. Because of its severe visual and architectural impacts. And because the cost to benefit ratio is very poor. It was decided the money could be better spent elsewhere.
That fact can’t be argued about because the lecture was video taped and is on the internet for every to see. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_TP5rKbNKE
Furthermore Jay Schumaker who also was a part of the Balboa Park Master Plan has said exactly the same thing.

Richard I have no idea of what you are talking about, saying that I am a non archery spokesperson speaking for them. That makes no sense whatsoever. But since you seem very concerned about that, I’m more than happy to let the archers speak for themselves in these video clips which everyone can view online.
(the supplied links are no longer valid)


John Lawrence May 18, 2011 at 1:13 am

First, the “bypass bridge” would not be part of Cabrillo Bridge at all. Traffic would be well over the bridge before the bypass would occur. Second, the notion that running traffic around the building across from the Museum of Man would detract from the historic architectural values of the park is ludicrous. As many others have pointed out, this building is totally obscured by the landscape. In addition the building itself is totally nondescript presenting little more than a blank wall to the west view. It is no architectural wonder, and, evidently, has no use value whatsoever as it is never open to the public. It seems like it is some sort of warehouse or storage room. So the bypass around this building would not even be visible much less detract from the esthetics of the west view of the park. On the other hand running traffic down the El Prado in front of the Old Globe, the Museum of Man and the Alcazar Gardens as currently is the case DOES detract from the esthetic and historic values of the park. Third, the parking garage would be underground thus freeing up the present asphalt lot to be landscaped as additional park land. The result would be converting an asphalt lot into landscaped park which would enhance the value of that particular area – not detract from it.

The Jacobs plan would eliminate several crosswalks where pedestrians have to cross traffic in the core of the park, and also provide several different drop-off and parking options. The Alcazar parking lot would allow for a safe drop-off zone for pedestrians who could then safely cross to the Old Globe or Museum of Man unmolested by traffic. It would also allow for valet parking. Charging a modest fee for parking in the parking garage would also provide an additional option over parking in the Inspiration Point lot and taking the tram to the core of the park. Those who want free parking at all costs would be welcome to park there and take the tram. The Jacobs plan also provides a route through the park from Sixth Ave to Park Blvd as is the case presently. In short the Jacobs plan provides a variety of options instead of a one size fits all parking solution.

The Jacobs proposal would make for future enhanced historical values while the alternative which allows traffic to continue through the Plaza de Panama amounts to little more than the status quo.


Bruce Coons May 18, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Hi John,

If you would like I’d be happy to sit down with you and go over the actual plans and I believe you will agree with us as the most all the people who see the facts.


Dan Soderberg May 18, 2011 at 2:56 am

The Cabrillo Bridge and its approaches are viewed by the National Parks Service as contiguous and of equal value on the Register.

The National Register Report on the Historic District uses language and descriptions quite a bit opposite of “nondescript.” Of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but qualifying for the National Register means that it was evaluated by those with expertise both professionally and academically in history and architecture, and determined not by personal taste.

The bypass concept should be returned to the trash can which where the Balboa Park Master Planners put it in the first place. Their judgment was sound then. And is just as valid now.

A variety of alternatives to the Jacobs plan accomplish most of goals of their project in different ways. Implementation of the already approved Precise Plan for the Mesa removes all automobile parking from Plaza de Panama and returns 75% of it to pedestrian use. Furthermore through that planned traffic management and periodic bridge closure would demonstrate the feasibility of one day making all of El Prado including the Cabrillo Bridge a pedestrian zone. It has been proven successful in at least 75 other locations in the U.S, and should work just as well here too, despite worries and objections of some stakeholders.

Implementing the Precise Plan would cost a lot less money too. Remember, Jacobs never said he was paying for this project. Only that he’d help raise funds. I’m afraid this project will have to wait in line behind the downtown library, which still awaiting donors.


Richard W. Amero May 18, 2011 at 9:05 am

A discussion with Mr. Soderberg can go on forever as he will never concede anything to the other side and will continue to make slippery and historically unverifiable claims.. The Jacobs plan was never vetted before it was introduced by Mr. Jacobs. Vicki knows this. A plan to route traffic under the bridge from the Quince Street overpass and a plan to divert traffic from the northeast side of the bridge were discussed. The latter plan was made moot when the Administration Building, now used by the Museum of Man, was rebuilt.
As for the archers, I would like to hear from them directly as their word would carry more conviction than that of a person looking for arguments. I walked over the archery court below and around Cabrillo Bridge years ago when I was capable of getting around on my own. I found that the eucalyptus trees provided excellent shade and a place for putting targets which were buttressed by bales of hay. Whether or not the California tower is visible from the archery courts seems to me like an idle issue. The archers are not aiming at the tower. I do not advocate restoration of the slopes next to Cabrillo Bridge to their 1915 appearance, however excellent and “historic” that appearance was. I invite anyone interested to visit the archery courts. They are not used most of the time. The fact remains that the outside of the south wing of the California Quadrangle is now largely invisible because of tall and obtrusive planting and if the Jacobs’ plan were to be adopted much more of this section would again be exposed, especially the :imitation” buttresses “borrowed” from the San Gabriel Mission. This is a frivolous issue and I am sorry I have to waste so much time writing about it..
The best counterattack I have ever read to the exaggerated claims of historic preservationists was written by Ada Louise Huxtable of the New York Times in “Will They Ever Finish Bruckner Boulevard?” She said it was impossible to go home again and cited Williamsburg as her chief example of the fallacy of historic preservation? Where are the swines, where is the smell?


Dan Soderberg May 18, 2011 at 9:51 am

Richard I am truly sorry you are resorting to this. The videos of public record and testimony speak for themselves. Those are not actors playing Vicki Estrada or the Archery Club. I am sorry you are unable to get out and attend public meetings yourself and to gather facts first hand. But complete transcriptions of those meetings and videos of public comment are available. Have a good day, and I wish you well.


Patrick McArron May 19, 2011 at 10:36 am

I too am sorry about YOUR attitude on this topic. We do NOT need more auto traffic in the park. Time to concentrate on foot traffic. I think that Bob Dorn’s comments hit the mark.


bob dorn May 19, 2011 at 8:09 am

All the focus placed on the western approach, the Cabrillo Bridge,
by Jacobs and, now, the Rag, ignores the obvious alternative: Park
Boulevard. There’s a reason the city named that broad street Park
Think of the vast black desert of the zoo parking lot as a series of
three- or four-story parking garages, with two of those levels under
grounded. Think of Park Boulevard without curb parking because
the garages could easily accept the cars that park there now. That
ban on parking would open up two lanes on the boulevard for shuttles
and still preserve pedestrian access on broad sidewalks.
Leave the western side of the park alone. It’s obvious that Cabrillo
Bridge has to be considered too fragile for continued use by cars and
trams and that making it a pedestrian and cycling connection restores
it to functioning as part of the Park, not a highway. The park now serves
a myriad of special interests, including the car, and opening the west to
people who cruise on foot and bike would serve all of us who like to wander
a bit.
Let’s develop access on the Park’s East side, which is today still
underutilized and dominated by the zoo’s parking lot.


Patrick McArron May 19, 2011 at 10:34 am

Thank you Bob for weighing in on this. Well put. You hit the nail on the head.


Patrick McArron May 19, 2011 at 10:40 am

Like many other San Diegans I have been following this controversy and listening to both sides. What has become crystal clear in all this is that everyone (virtually everyone) agrees that removing cars from Plaza de Panama is a worthy goal. Restoring the Plaza to pedestrians is the goal.

It is admirable that one of our wealthiest of citizens and a well known philanthropist, Irwin Jacobs, is spearheading a project to eliminate cars from the Plaza de Panama.

The ticking point in the controversy regarding this goal is the METHOD of achieving the goal.

It is time for everyone to step back, take a deep breath, and take a fresh look at the goal and a way to achieve it without the need to create a Bypass to a parking garage.

I propose that we stop looking at this project from the point of view of the windshield of a car. Is it really necessary to continue to accommodate automobile access on Cabrillo Bridge? I would say the answer might be NO.

ALL of our cultural buildings, theaters, museums are on the East side of Cabrillo Bridge. On the West side of the bridge are open spaces, a playground, Lawn Bowling, a Dog Park, some local clubs.

ALL but one of the parking lots in Balboa Park are on the East side of the Bridge.

I would propose that we expand the already popular Tram Service in the park and use it to transport people, not cars, across the Bridge for those entering the park from the WEST.

It is important to note that Park Blvd provides for excellent access to the ALL of the cultural buildingS etc on the East side of the Bridge. ALL parking lots in the park except for one are on the East side of the Bridge.

The Bridge, of course, should remain accessible to emergency and utility vehicles. But must we continue to accommodate the automobile on the Bridge? I suggest that NO is the answer.

At one time our Trolley system used to provide transportation to the Park from Downtown San Diego and other points of the city. And it is not beyond the realm of possibility to restore such a line to the Park thus encouraging and providing for more pedestrian access to our Park without the automobile getting in the way of our continued enjoyment of the Park.

So – please take a fresh look from the eyes of the pedestrian and not the car to achieve the goal. The proliferation of automobiles in the park is the problem and creating more ways to accommodate and increase the number of cars in the Park is not the solution to the problem.


Dan Soderberg May 19, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Great posting Patrick. I appreciate your understanding of current best practices and solutions for reforming automobile oriented areas to pedestrian use. These 21st Century strategies have worked wonderfully in at least 75 other locations in the U.S.A. We need to look no further than 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica as an example. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Street_Promenade

It is well documented how the doom and gloomers predicted the failure of making 3rd Street into a pedestrian zone. The same nay-saying crop up every time such a plan is proposed. In Santa Monica not only were their predictions proven wrong, 3rd Street far exceeded even the most optimistic expectations.

Of course it isn’t just a simple matter of posting a “road closed” sign. There has to be a plan. How do people get there? And if they go by car, where do they park? City of Santa Monica built parking structures to the side.

Same with 16th Street in Denver. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/16th_Street_Mall There the community and city fathers had the wisdom to provide streetcar access.

Another fantastic example is Church Street Marketplace in Burlington, VT. In 2008 it was awarded the “Great Public Spaces of 2008” award by the American Planning Association. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_Street_Marketplace

There are literally dozens and dozens of examples to cite. Not to mention Europe where these best planning practices have been perfected for some time. Of course the nay-sayers will argue those examples are commercial applications. The same principles would apply to a park. And besides, don’t forget the institutions are, after all, revenue seeking enterprises, not to mention the theater and restaurant operations.

Making Cabrillo Bridge a pedestrian zone through carefully planning would enable the institutions and park to flourish as never before.

Sadly we’re still behind the curve here in San Diego. The Jacobs plan is a rehash of failed planning practices from the previous century. It is nothing but further catering to the automobile which will bring more cars and more traffic into the heart of Balboa Park than ever before.

Ironically Jacob’s planners, Civitas, was part of the success story of 16th Street in Denver. I’d venture to say they’d love to apply their knowledge and experience of successful planning solutions here. But unfortunately their client is calling the shots, and seeks an outdated and destructive vision for the park.

The best way to ween people off of automobile access to Balboa Park is by implementing the already vetted and approved Precise Plan. Let us not forget this plan was all set to go and fully funded before previous Mayors robbed those funds for other pet projects. One thing is for sure. Building an ugly bypass will forever kill the possibility of making our wonderful Cabrillo Bridge a pedestrian zone.


Anne Wilson May 20, 2011 at 10:41 pm

I, too, find this blog discussion helpful and informative. I live north of the park and consider it my back yard. I walk the trails several times most weeks and most often walk to museums and events. Whether or not you are convinced by the preservationists concern, entering the park from the west is a magnificent experience. Each and every time I walk across that bridge it is an experience and each time I am baffled that we allow cars to disrupt the space. I, too, am excited to see the Jacobs family offer funding to improve the pedestrian experience in the park. It is long overdue. However there is little to justify building the bypass and feeding more traffic over the Cabrillo Bridge. Trams, shuttles, bikes and pedestrians will activate the space and make it accessible. Too much of the park is already devoted to cars and parking. Ultimately, an underground parking garage, as costly as it will be to build, probably makes sense on the east- but the Jacobs money is better used for other improvements to prepare for the anniversary. And the City will need to design better ways to direct traffic around to the east side- and keep it off the Robinson Bridge.


Richard W. Amero May 19, 2011 at 11:39 am

So some people propose no cars at all on the bridge, not even trams. I am quite willing to try an experiment from the months of June through September of this year. Close the bridge entirely to everyone except foot walkers and see what happens. I know what will happen and so does the Park Department but let’s show the critics what is obvious. Who was the king who tried to stop the tide from coming in by whipping the waves?


Bruce Coons May 19, 2011 at 1:06 pm


The Bridge was closed recently during the retrofit for over a year and attendance at the museums increased during that time. And there was no great outcry from the population. In fact not a hint of a problem. I believe the majority of San Diegan’s currently would support closing the Bridge, however after listening to many many groups and individuals, I now believe that managed traffic would accommodate the greatest number of different users and experiences. Closed during certain hours when the most pedestrians are present and open the rest of the time.


Richard W. Amero May 20, 2011 at 9:49 am

In answer to my query about closures of Cabrillo Bridge from 2000 to 2011, I have received the following answer.
According to the City of San Diego Park and Recreation Director, May 20, 2011, “The Cabrillo Bridge was not closed for any significant time other than the temporary closures for events. We also do not have any significant closures anticipated for 2011.”

Richard W. Amero


bob dorn May 20, 2011 at 8:20 am

Thank you Lucas, John, Patrick and Bruce. It’s refreshing to
read intelligent suggestions countering the Jacobs
plan. You all know that the Park long ago became the soul of
the city, and that lately we’ve lately we’ve been seeing it merely
as asset and moneymaker.
We rent it out to beer partyers and halloweenies. We set aside vast
tracts of it for the Navy and golfers, and smaller ones for frisbee
golfers and shuffleboarders and bridge players. There’s nothing
WRONG with any of that; it’s just that ALL of it is too much because…
the people who go to the Park for one specific purpose want to park
their cars near the parcels set aside for those purposes. So we wind
up talking about cars, and THEIR access to the Park.
Like I said earlier, it’s really, really good to read all these comments
(or, most of them anyway) that are friendly to the idea of providing
more space for strolling, and improvised fun, and casual, lengthy
pursuit of humane diversion. Walking and looking and breathing
is what people do in great parks. Cars don’t let them do that.


John Lawrence May 21, 2011 at 10:48 am

All the comments about making Cabrillo Bridge pedestrian only ignore the fact that many senior citizens who can’t walk great distances attend Old Globe Theatre performances at night. The Jacobs plan accomodates these citizens by providing a pedestrian drop-off point in Alcazar Gardens as well as valet parking for the wealthier among us (not including moi but still worth catering to to some extent). Then to get to the Old Globe they wouldn’t have to cross traffic on El Prado! Would you have mobility challenged seniors walking across Cabrillo Bridge at night or walking from Park Blvd to attend the Old Globe not to mention the restaurants. The Jacobs plan accomodates these people as well as handicapped. Walking is great but some of us can’t do that much of it or prefer not to do that much of it especially at night. You young whipper snappers can walk to your heart’s content but the Park should accomodate the elderly as well.


Bruce Coons May 21, 2011 at 11:25 am

John you should try actually looking at the Jacobs plan. The disabled and the valet patrons still have to cross both traffic lanes and freight drop off in the Alcazar Parking lot with even more traffic. Their paths of travel are also extremely long, much longer than now. Our plan puts disabled parking right behind each of the institutions for the closest access and shortest paths of travel ever.


John Lawrence May 21, 2011 at 1:46 pm


I don’t see why the Jacobs plan would cause drop-offs to have to cross traffic if the drop-off lane is the closest lane to Alcazar Gardens. The through traffic lane should be the one farthest from Alcazar. I haven’t seen the exact details of the plan, but it doesn’t make any sense to have the drop-off lane on the far side of the through traffic lane. As far as the paths of travel being extremely long, I wouldn’t consider having to walk across Alcazar Gardens as “extremely long” as compared to being dropped off on El Prado in the midst of traffic.

Do you have links to both plans?


Bruce Coons May 21, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Hi John,
The traffic lanes in the Jacobs plan are between the Alcazar garden and the ADA parking, freight drop off and loading and the valet parking and drop off. The main ADA pathway crosses all this confusion at grade, and then proceeds to a long new bridge behind the Mingei to the El Cid Statue area. They say that there will also be another alternate pathway through the Alcazar on the east side to the Mingei, also crossing the traffic lanes. Our plan would have the drop off at the Globe and behind the other institutions. The Jacobs plan also has the road entering a big ditch that cuts the central mesa in halve and severing most of the pedestrian connection between the Palisades and the Plaza de Panama. The parking garage will be at the same level as the Organ Pavilion so we can anticipate enjoying the car alarms and the screeching of tires during the concerts. Not to mention the vast amount of earth moving fill and retaining walls in Palm Canyon. You are right the more you look at the plan the less sense it makes. The Jacobs Plan only moves the pedestrian conflicts around ,and in many cases actually makes them much worse than they are now. Our website sohosandiego.org has our Plan (which is a portion of and lighter version of the publicly vetted (over 9 yrs of community input)and currently approved plan for Balboa Park and in our Powerpoint presenation you can see the Jacobs teams circulation diagrams for the Alcazar parking lot , plus the overall plan, bridge designs and a cross section of the big ditch. San Diego does not need this. We also have the full set of plans for the Jacobs plan in our office, you are welcome to see them. As one former Bankers Hill supporter of the plan exclaimed after reviewing them “They are putting a freeway off the Cabrillo Bridge.” our reply “no kidding”.


John Lawrence May 22, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Hi Bruce,

Thank you for your detailed response. As you may know, I made a video which was posted on the OB Rag and my own website, Will Blog For Food, in which I walked the entire route comparing the two proposals. While not pretending to be an expert (I hadn’t studied the exact proposals) and based on the TV discussion between you and Dr. Jacobs, I mistakenly assumed that the exit from Alcazar Gardens according to the Jacobs plan was the current existing exit which would put traffic back on the current road next to the Organ Pavillion. I suggested in the video that, if you tunneled under the road (is it Pan American Way?) near the rest room instead and entered the proposed underground parking garage below grade, the entire current roadway down to President’s Way and Pan American Plaza as well as the Pan American parking lot could be made car free and pedestrian only.

However, after reviewing the Jacobs plan with the link you provided, I see that that is exactly what the Jacobs plan does! It makes every museum in the park accessible by pedestrians without ever having to cross traffic as I suggested in the video as my own original idea which I see now was in the Jacobs plan all along so from that point of view I like the Jacobs plan even better than I did before because it allows the eventual development of the asphalt parking lot in Pan American Plaza into a park like landscape.

As to your criticisms about the traffic flow and parking in the Alcazar parking lot, I can see why there is some confusion and conflict between pedestrians and cars there. However, with slight modification I would have all drop-offs including cars destined for valet parking and handicapped parking in the lane adjacent to the Gardens so that pedestrians would not have to cross traffic in the parking lot. Perhaps it would be better to have handicapped parking in the parking garage with tram support to Plaza de Panama. Certainly pedestrians crossing circulating traffic in that lot can and should be avoided.

Also I was pleased to note that the trams pictured in the Jacobs proposal were the mini kind as seen in airports and not the ones in current use. These could also circulate the entire length of El Prado from the Museum of Man to the Museum of Natural History mainly for the benefit of seniors and the mobility impaired. That would be a welcome addition with either plan.

As you noted there are small parking lots near most of the major museums especially on the east side where people can be dropped off without having to walk a great distance, but I assume this would remain true for both plans. As I suggested in my video, these parking lots could also be drop-off points for trams from the Inspiration Point lot instead of the current drop-off point in Plaza de Panama thus keeping the core area free from major tram traffic.

Bruce, I appreciate your taking the time to respond to my comments. However, I still like the Jacobs plan better because it creates a huge pedestrian only, car free zone in the core of the park.

John Lawrence


bob dorn May 25, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Lucas O’Connor, you’re turning your own arguments inside
out when you poo poo on CalTrans’ opposition to the Jacobs
plan on grounds the plan violates 163’s own separate
preservation status. You try to question the meaning of historical
preservation even after having, yourself, invoked preservation as
your goal in this line from your most recent essay: “The historic views
of Cabrillo Bridge are largely inaccessible.” After all, the view of the
bridge is most dramatic from that historical freeway beneath it.
You say the objections critics raise to the Jacobs incursion “largely fail to
address the underlying goal of speaking to our collective history and
experience,” once again invoking history as your authority. Yet I
can’t help but think the the Park’s founders would much rather have
the Park open and green rather than asphalted, its bridge dedicated
to delivering cars to park center.
Redesign the plan.


Lucas O'Connor May 25, 2011 at 2:37 pm

I think I’m just asking for more information, and reiterating my original hope that this debate can also include a re-examination of how we proactively use San Diego’s history to guide and enrich San Diego’s present.


Richard W. Amero May 25, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Let’s talk about the park’s founders. See Gregory Montes, Journal of San Diego History, Spring 1977:

On February 15, 1868, Ephraim W. Morse, a Trustee of the City of San Diego presented a resolution which was approved by the two other board members, Thomas Bush and J.S. Manasse, to set aside two 160 acre “pueblo lots,” “for the purpose of securing to the inhabitants of the City of San Diego a suitable park.”4 Few could see the need for a 320 acre park for a town of 2,310 people. Only Alonzo Horton, of all people, would accompany Morse to select the park site. Morse then proposed, and Horton accepted, that since 40,000 pueblo acres were still available, they should reserve nine instead of just two pueblo lots, or 1,440 acres for the park, although two days before, Morse and/or the two other trustees had sold forty acres in the southwest corner of the park site, nearest New San Diego’s center, to Isabella Carruthers for a housing addition. Thus development pressures began on City Park before it was formally established.

Too add to this Jose Guadalupe Estudillo later added the Trustees of the Town were anxious to set aside this land in order not to decrease the value of adjacent properties which were then being gobbled up by speculators.

While not exactly founders, George W. Marston and landscape architects Samuel Parsons, Jr. and John Olmsted, Jr. were very much opposed to putting buildings in the center of the park.


bob dorn May 26, 2011 at 9:12 am

We’re lucky to have Richard Amero bring to our attention
this exellent piece of work by Mr. Montes, especially because
it contains, at the end of its introduction this paragraph:

The history of City Park in 1868-1902 has fascinating and amusing moments but above all it is sobering to think that the entire 1400 acre park was generally preserved in the late 19th century heyday of shady land deals whereas in the presumably more enlightened 20th century, 322 acres of the park have been deeded or leased to freeways (109.2 acres), a burgeoning naval hospital (92.6 acres) and other incompatible uses.1 The outward-exploding, suburbanizing pressures of the 1950’s partly explain these assaults on the park. But beyond that we must look to lapses of values in our culture which allowed these tragedies to occur. Now, since the mid-1960’s, American society has increased its appreciation of rural and urban natural environments, the latter of which is best represented in large city parks such as Balboa. Perhaps study of the brave defense of that park in earlier, equally difficult times can help us enjoy the park more and do better for it and ourselves in the future.


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