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Mayor Gloria Highlights ‘Balboa Park Renaissance’



Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021

CONTACT: MayorPress@sandiego.gov

B-roll of Balboa Park improvements


SAN DIEGO – Underscoring his goal to improve public spaces for residents and visitors alike, Mayor Todd Gloria today led a walking tour of projects that are improving and enhancing San Diego’s crown jewel, Balboa Park – collectively dubbed the “Balboa Park Renaissance.”

“When people think of San Diego, one of the first places their minds take them is Balboa Park. We owe it to residents and visitors alike to make sure the reality matches the idea,” Mayor Todd Gloria said. “That’s why the City and its dedicated partners in Balboa Park have been working together to upgrade and enhance many of the physical spaces in the park, to create the best possible experience. I couldn’t be prouder of the work that has been done and continues to be done.”

Mayor Gloria kicked off the tour in the Palisades, surrounded by the San Diego Municipal Gym, the San Diego Air and Space Museum and the San Diego Automotive Museum, joined by City Council President Pro Tem Stephen Whitburn and Roger Showley, president of the Balboa Park Committee of 100 (C100).

“A world-class city needs a world-class park,” said Council President Pro Tem Whitburn, who represents District 3. “Balboa Park is treasured by San Diegans and tourists alike, and the Balboa Park Renaissance highlights the tremendous work being done to make our park everything we know it can be.”

C100 is restoring the San Diego Automotive Museum, Municipal Gym and Federal Building / Comic-Con Museum. At C100’s urging, the City rehabilitated the southern half of Pan-American Plaza last year into a pedestrian-only space. 

The Auto Museum was the California State Building at the 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition. The monumental murals, depicting California's commerce, scenic beauty, agricultural bounty and industry, were recreated in artistic ceramic tiles. Its Central American-inspired ornamentation was installed, and two California grizzly bear statues will be returned to the roof early next year. A similar restoration is in the works for the Municipal Gym. A bronze panel over the entrance is being fabricated and will go up next year. Meanwhile, C100 underwrote the cost of materials to repaint all three buildings the historic Bagel and Honeymoon colors for the walls and ornamental work.

“The Palisades used to be the ugly stepsister of Balboa Park,” Showley said. "With the city’s help, we’re making this a new gathering place for residents and visitors. It often takes just a bucket of paint to make a big difference.”

The second stop on the tour was the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages, where Mayor Gloria was joined by Eugenie King, president of the House of Pacific Relations, and representatives of some of the cottages.

Nine new cottages, consisting of four duplexes and one stand-alone building, were completed in August 2021 to provide homes for the nations of Chamorros, India, Korea, Peru, Panama, Philippines, Mexico, India and Palestine.

“It has been a long haul, but we are so excited to showcase these nine cultures in their own space for everyone to enjoy,” King said.

For the third stop, the Mayor was joined by Rob Sidner, executive director and CEO of Mingei International Museum.

Mingei recently completed a $55 million renovation and remodel that includes a reimagining of the museum’s spaces to include new connections to the Plaza de Panama and Alcazar Garden, as well as free public areas throughout the entire ground floor.

“Mingei International is thrilled to be a central part of the significant new investment by a number of nonprofit institutions in Balboa Park and the City of San Diego with improvements and expansions to their buildings and programs,” Sidner said. “We are happy that our government leaders are drawing attention to these efforts and hope this will be a spur to further investment by other institutions, corporations, foundations, individual philanthropists and by City and County governments in this crown jewel of San Diego.”

Stop No. 4 was beside the iconic Lily Pond, flanked by the Botanical Building and the Timken Museum of Art. There, Mayor Gloria was joined by Connie Matsui, co-chair of Forever Balboa Park, and Megan Pogue, executive director of the Timken.

The Botanical Building will undergo a complete rebuild, with construction beginning in January, to restore the iconic structure to its original 1915 grandeur, including the reinstallation of historic elements and architectural features.

“The current momentum in Balboa Park is so inspiring, reaffirming how much parks contribute to the quality of life in San Diego,” Matsui said. “This revitalization demonstrates the importance of public-private park partnerships, from the Botanical Building and Gardens restoration to other critical initiatives.”

The Timken Museum is currently under construction with building improvements that will enhance the visitor experience. Among the changes are gallery reconfigurations along with new lighting, wall and ceiling treatments, bronze restoration and wood refinishing.  The museum is also installing new mechanical systems, including cutting-edge anti-viral technology that captures and kills more than 99 percent of airborne pathogens, allowing the Timken to become the first museum in the world to provide such a uniquely controlled environment.

“Balboa Park is the heart and soul of San Diego. In the past 100 years, the park has undergone many changes and additions as it has adapted to a vibrant and growing city,” Pogue said. “The Timken is so proud to be part of the Park’s current renaissance. While the pandemic has affected us all in so many ways, the Timken met the moment to plan, remodel, renovate and renew. When we reopen our doors this coming spring, visitors will find a brand-new museum.”

The tour ended on a patch of grass near the magnificent Moreton Bay Fig Tree and across from the Casa del Prado.

This past spring, work was completed on a viewing platform next to the iconic, 106-year-old tree. The Casa del Prado will be rehabilitated, including restoration of its beloved ornamentation and other building improvements, including ADA upgrades. The project is made possible with the help of state funding secured by Assemblymember Chris Ward.

“Over the last century-and-a-half, Balboa Park has played an integral role in the story of San Diego and provided cultural and recreational enjoyment open to all. To ensure that legacy continues, I worked to secure more than $5 million from this year’s state budget for facility upgrades to Balboa Park,” Assemblymember Ward said. “As I had recognized and supported during my time on City Council, there continues to be a strong need for reinvestment in our crown jewel, and I am committed to unlocking additional state dollars to make Balboa Park worthy of its role as a historical hub of creativity and economic force for our region.”


Additional improvements in the park include:

  • A reimagining of the San Diego Zoo’s former Children’s Zoo, incorporating it into the new Wildlife Explorer’s Basecamp – under construction
  • A $4 million rehabilitation of the historic Bud Kearns pool in Morley Field – nearly complete.
  • A repaving of Balboa Drive.
  • A landscaping project at the Natural History Museum that will enhance the area surrounding the building with native plants and provide curated nature experiences at no cost to Balboa Park visitors – in planning. 
  • A newly upgraded Heikoff Giant Dome Theater at the Fleet Science Center, with stunning audio and video projection enhancements – recently reopened.