The exciting history of SD’s oldest park

by Emma Secker

San Diego’s Balboa Park got its name in 1910,  replacing its original title, “City Park.” The comparatively bland name was swapped as an homage to Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, a Spanish conquistador who claimed all of the shores of the Pacific Ocean for Spain’s province in the early 16th century.

Balboa Park’s visual majesty lies in both its unique architecture and prolific horticulture.  According to an article from “Discover Balboa Park: A Complete Guide to America’s Greatest Urban Park”, the park has come an especially long way in its variety of vegetation since the 1400 acres of land were initially staked in 1868.

Thanks to a horticulturalist named Kate Sessions, who has since been named the “Mother of Balboa Park,” the park’s original dry and rocky landscape was cultivated to become the fruitful and fertile expanse of abundant land it is today. According to the

Balboa Park website, Sessions was leased 30 acres of park land by the city to begin planting her thriving botanical gardens, which steadily shaped the image that exists today.  “She (Sessions) would plant 100 trees per year throughout the park and donate others to the city for planting elsewhere,” the City of San Diego website states. “With Kate Sessions’ vision, brushwood and rocky dirt were transformed into tree-shaded lawns, flower gardens and hillside nature paths.”

The beauty of Balboa Park’s flourishing flora leaves visitors mesmerized, and the park’s Spanish-style architecture is equally as stunning.According to an article titled “Fairytale architecture” by Roger Conlee, “The Spanish Colonial Revival style seen in Balboa Park represents an architectural movement that began to flourish on the U.S. Pacific Coast in the 1890s.” The article further states the style is “heavily influenced by the Spanish-Moorish architecture of the Iberian Peninsula and Spanish colonial sites elsewhere.”To satisfy one’s aesthetic appetite with auditory accompaniment, Balboa Park’s Spreckels Organ Pavilion and

Old Globe Theatre have evolved to embody a delightful blend of music and theater. “John D. and Adolph Spreckels donated the Spreckels Organ, one of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs, to the city of San Diego in 1914 for the Panama-California Exposition,” the park website states. “Since 1917, San Diego has had a civic organist, who performs free weekly Sunday concerts.”The Panama-California Exposition was hosted in Balboa Park to commemorate the completion of the Panama Canal.

It celebrated San Diego as the first American port of call north of the Panama Canal on the Pacific Coast. Built in 1935, Balboa Park’s Old Globe Theatre deviates from the dominant Spanish-style. The theater is modeled after Shakespeare’s Old Globe Theatre in London. According to The Old Globe website, an arson fire in 1978 burned much of it down, but was then rebuilt from the “administrative offices, rehearsal hall, dressing rooms, scenery and costume shops and the Cassius Carter Centre Stage” that remained.

This facsimile of London’s prominent landmark and remodeled version of Balboa Park’s torched original is the Old Globe Theatre that stands today.To fully appreciate the grandeur of Balboa Park, students can take a glance back at the history this beautiful park evolved from.