Thursday Doors: Balboa Park (Part 1)

I recently posted about spending a gorgeous day with a dear friend in one of San Diego’s most beautiful and popular destinations, Balboa Park.  Since there are so many beautiful doors, arches, and entrances in the Park, I thought it would be a fitting submission for Norm 2.0 Thursday Doors link up.


I thought this gem in the middle of our city deserved a few more posts and pictures.

Balboa Park covers over 1,200 acres and is situated just minutes from downtown San Diego. It is home to 15 major museums, renowned performing arts venues, beautiful gardens, and the world famous San Diego Zoo. It is the nation’s largest urban cultural park and one of the oldest in the United States dedicated to public recreational use.


When the park (then named City Park) began in 1868 as land set aside by San Diego civic leaders, it was just a scrub-filled mesa without formal landscaping or development. That would change after the turn of the century when a master plan for improvements was formally introduced. San Diego was set to play host to the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and the city leaders wanted to put their best face forward as they welcomed visitors from around the world. San Diego would be the smallest city to ever hold a World’s Fair; its population at the time was less than 40,000.

The Exposition’s lead designer, Bertram Goodhue, wanted a regionally appropriate aesthetic for the architecture. To accomplish this, he and his design team combined the styles of highly ornamented Spanish Baroque with Spanish Colonial architecture to create the Spanish Colonial Revival Style used for the Exposition’s buildings. After attending the Exposition, President Theodore Roosevelt put his stamp of approval on the architectural style and recommended that the “buildings of rare phenomenal taste and beauty” be left as permanent additions.


Unfortunately, most of the expo buildings were only supposed to remain standing through 1916, and were not constructed with long-lasting materials. When the expo ended, several discussions were held to determine what to do with the buildings. Even the lead architect, Goodhue, recommended demolishing the buildings, saying “They are now crumbling, disintegrating and altogether unlovely structures, structures that lack any of the venerability of age and present only its pathos, and the space they occupy could readily be made into one of the most beautiful public gardens in the New World.”

Happily, cooler heads prevailed. A city-appointed committee hired an architect to review the buildings, and he determined that they could be restored by a slight margin over the costs to demolish the buildings. The necessary funds and materials for restoration were donated by San Diegans and the labor was financed by the federal government.


My next Thursday Doors post will cover another area of the Park, which was constructed for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition.

Author: Janis @

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

45 thoughts on “Thursday Doors: Balboa Park (Part 1)”

    1. Thank goodness they made that decision back then! Many of the buildings are currently in need of restoration, though. Hopefully the city can find the money – or a benefactor – to do the work required to save them for the future.

  1. The mentality of the time to build things ‘temporarily’ sounds odd … and yet it’s still done today. Thankfully they were preserved. It’s not a minor achievement to host a World Fair in such a small community!
    The buildings and their doors all look magnificent. Whoever designed the over-the-top ornate theatre entrance clearly wasn’t a minimalist 😉

    Great *then* and *now* photos of you!

    1. I read a great book, The Devil and the White City, about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and they said the same thing about those buildings. I guess there is such a push to create a rather large venue that not a lot of effort is put into building structures to last. Fortunately, they found a way to make these more permanent.

  2. Wow! What gorgeous photos of this wonderful place! Ive never been there, but now I want to go!

  3. Hi, Janis – Your photos are breathtaking and the history that you provided is very intriguing. This was the final inspiration that I needed to go out and really look at the doors around me. If my adventure is successful, I hope to take part in Thursday’s Doors next week.

    1. Last year was Balboa Park’s centennial so there was a lot of focus on the history. I hope you join in on the Thursday Doors link up. It’s really amazing how many different and interesting doors are out there. I look forward to your post!

  4. It makes me scratch my head why I never really explored your town much while I lived in CA. Balboa Park looks so beautiful, and I had no idea of its interesting history. Thanks for this post… looking forward to the part II.

  5. Some absolutely beautiful buildings. It’s nice they were able to save them.
    I say you should have jumped over the rope and sat on that deer 😉

    1. Thank goodness for people with vision. I imagine they had a lot of pressure put on them from developers to just bulldoze the Expo grounds and start over. My friend tried to get me to jump the rope and sit on the deer. I probably would have broken Blixen, or done something else to mess up the display and ruin Christmas for the kids, so that’s as close as I dared to get. 😄

  6. I love historic buildings and strolling past them, taking photos. I remember exploring Balboa Park one winter in 2004, when Mark and I drove down from Oakland, CA with our dogs. He was looking at a boat there (and ended up buying it and transporting it up north on a truck) and we combined the boat visit with a visit to the city. 🙂 Then, on the drive to Mexico with our truck camper a year later, we spend Christmas Day at the San Diego Zoo and the night – for free – in a Walmart parking lot.

    1. I haven’t been to the Zoo in forever. I know that they have many more exhibits so I really need to make the time. I wonder if Christmas Day was a good time to go (no crowds) or a bad time to go (lots of people with the day off)?

      1. I remember it was not too crowded way back when. But, it is one of the few attractions that is open on Christmas Day, so people might gather. If you have nothing else planned that day, it would be fun to go…

  7. Oh how wonderful, Janis! A walk through Balboa Park showing all those incredible doors! Thanks for the tour down memory lane. Isn’t this a great photo challenge? Hope to see more of them from you and from your neighborhood like you already mentioned! I remember seeing an old Polaroid of me sitting in Santa’s sleigh. I was always so fascinated by the reindeer as a kid and even today still love seeing the Nativity scenes. Are you going to Christmas (or December) on the Prado?

    1. I may venture into some of the more historic neighborhoods (Mission Hills, Hillcrest, etc) for those pictures. I guess back in the day they actually let people sit on the Santa and his Reindeer display… not anymore! We probably won’t go to December Nights… too crowded! But, perhaps an evening visit to the Hotel Del would be fun (with my camera!).

  8. Beautiful, old San Diego doors. It is sad when there is talk of destroying historical buildings like these. Glad they were saved.

    1. Until I did my research for this post, I wasn’t aware of how close San Diego was to losing those beautiful buildings. It also made me think about how much we – and many communities – have lost because no one stood up for preservation.

  9. Balboa Park is one of my favorites (I have very fond memories from visiting there in 2007). Your photos capture it beautifully. Its a great stage for Norms Doors. And I love your perspective on the dome!

    1. For the centennial celebration last year, they opened up the top of the California Tower for tours. It had been closed for years so it was quite a treat to see Balboa Park from that perspective. As long as you could climb the stairs, you could enjoy the wonderful views. I hope you join me this coming Thursday for more of Balboa Park via Norms Doors.

    1. I don’t know what the cost would be, but I, too, hope they find the funds. If you look closely, many of the beautiful old buildings are in need of repair. Something tells me the citizens of San Diego would probably be willing to add a bit to our sales tax to help pay for the renovations. I know I would.

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