Preserving San Diego’s architectural treasures in Balboa Park

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – This week’s devastating fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris underscores the need to look after our architectural treasures. San Diegans have a rich repository of those historic gems in the buildings in Balboa Park.

While Notre Dame is more than 800 years old, most of the buildings in Balboa Park are just about a century old, constructed for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.

What most visitors to the park don’t know is that many of the majestic buildings have already been rebuilt or restored.

The president and CEO of the Balboa Park Conservancy, Tomás Herrera-Mishler told us about the ongoing efforts to preserve the rich heritage of Balboa Park. He said the House of Hospitality, where the Visitor’s Center and the Prado Restaurant are located was completely rebuilt in 1997, with meticulous attention to preserving all the details of the original structure.

“It’s won many awards as one of the best historic re-creations in the United States,” Herrera-Mishler said.

The doors and even the glass in the windows are the originals and every detail, down to the exact shade of blue paint on the ceilings on the House of Hospitality was painstakingly reproduced. The Conservancy chief said the restoration of Notre Dame will also involve the same focus on historical authenticity.

“They have documented that structure incredibly well so they will be able to re-create it. They’re going to have to go through and preserve everything they can that can be re-used and that’s what was done with this structure,” Herrera-Mishler said

Fires destroyed two of the park’s original buildings. The Old Globe Theater burned down in 1978.

The building known as Casa de Balboa which houses several museums was destroyed by a 1972 fire. Herrera-Mishler credits a group called the Committee of 100 for rebuillding Casa de Balboa and remaining faithful to all the architectural features of the original structure.

“When a community is determined to recover the treasures of its past, they can do it,” Herrera-Mishler said.

The Botanical Building, the most photographed site in the park is still awaiting major restoration work totaling more than $10 million. The Botanical Building boasts the largest wood lath structure in the world. Because of age, some of the wood slats in the roof are fraying or coming loose.

As one example of planning for the future, the California Tower at the Museum of Man is currently undergoing a nearly $5 million seismic retrofit project, financed by the City of San Diego. Herrera-Mishler said the hard work that goes into restoring and preserving the park’s buildings speaks to the value of authenticity and maintaining our historical resources.

“This place is truly special, truly unique. We’ve got to sustain this amazing park and we’ve got to hand it on to our kids in better shape than we got it. And that’s what ‘s going to happen at Notre Dame,” Herrera-Mishler said.

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