Moving ahead with ideas for Balboa Park Centennial

If you’ve got an idea and you’ve got the money for it, the city of San Diego would like to hear from you. Wednesday, a number of San Diegans who share a love of Balboa Park offered a wide assortment of ideas for next year’s centennial. Just in time for a big birthday, a loving gift of restoration.

“It is one of the most beloved signature structures in our park,” said Carol Chang, Board President of the Balboa Park Conservancy.

To celebrate the 100th birthday of Balboa Park, preservationists are turning their attention to the Botanical Building – one of the most graceful and iconic buildings in the park. The San Diego Conservancy has plans to bring it back to its full splendor.

“It’s not just one person’s vision, this is something that we all want and all our groups are behind,” said Save Our Heritage President Jaye Caskle.

A lily pond welcomes visitors to the entrance; the building itself houses 2,100 plants. The Conservancy wants to restore the gardens, resolve some water issues and repair the crumbling roof. The group is seeking for $3 million in private donations.

“We’re hoping to have a big piece of it in by August to September of this year,” continued Chang.

Other centennial plans have less form and structure – they’re still in the concept phase.

“Our goal is to put them back in to Balboa Park,” said real estate developer Sandy Shapery.

Bringing back the Old Electroquette Building reproductions of this rolling vehicle is the brainchild of Shapery. The cart was the only motor vehicle allowed in the park for 1915’s Panama California Exhibition. Back in 1915, electricity in private homes was still a relatively new concept. The Electroquette – which ran on an electric battery – was considered cutting edge technology. If Shapery gets the city’s approval, he’d like to have a small fleet ready to rent to visitors at next year’s centennial.

“According to newspaper articles, there were as many as 200 of them in Balboa Park back in 1915.”

And then, there’s the idea from retired lawyer David Lundin:

“It’s going to be a recreation of what is was back in 1915.”

Lundin wants to transform the park on one weekend next spring with a step back in time, as people don costumes of the period and docents lead historical tours. The response through a newly created Facebook page has already been encouraging.

“I had over 200 e-mails this morning from people I’ve never met.”

The emphasis in these efforts is on the grass roots.

“We’re not paying a consultant $400,000 to plan this. The community is doing it for free.”

The last remark: a not so subtle jab at the group that was formed to plan the centennial – Balboa Park Celebration Inc. – who collected nearly $2 million in city money to do the job, but folded earlier this year, leaving many questions about what happened to the money it spent. But there’s a celebration to plan, now under the complete oversight of the city. Mayor Kevin Faulconer says he welcomes any group or individual with the time, talent and treasure (meaning bucks) to bring the celebration to Balboa Park.

Categories: KUSI