My Thursday Doors post last week highlighted some of the buildings and doors that were constructed for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition held in San Diego’s Balboa Park. This week’s post features a group of colorful structures that were added to the park close to 20 years later.
Hoping to mirror the success of the 1915 Exposition and promote the city during the Great Depression, San Diego civic leaders decided to hold a second large-scale event: the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. To help accomplish this bold plan and create whole new areas of the park, San Diego was fortunate to receive the first funds allocated by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
The second exposition, quite unlike the first, featured some controversial exhibits and unusual sideshow entertainment, including a nudist colony called Zoro Gardens, a Midget Village (yes, that’s what they called it), and Alpha, a 6’2”, 2,000 pound silver robot.
San Diego architect Richard S. Requa oversaw the design and construction of many new buildings for the Exposition. Whereas the buildings from the 1915 fair were designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, Requa’s “California-Spanish” architectural designs pulled not only from Spain but also pre-Columbian Indian buildings and temples.
Included in the new construction was a group of quaint buildings and courtyards designed to depict a charming old Spanish village. The six buildings featured shops, restaurants, and a children’s theater.
In 1937, after the fair had ended, the Spanish village was reopened by a group of local artists as an artists’ colony. Although the colony was temporarily commissioned by the U.S. Army for barracks during World War II, after the war it was reclaimed and restored by the artists and has been a beloved local art destination ever since.
San Diego artists have continued to preserve and enhance this historical landmark by adding colorful plantings and unique entryways. Today, the Spanish Village Art Center continues to be a thriving community of over 200 independently juried local artisans. The Art Center features 37 working art studios and galleries that are open to the public.
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