Balboa Park History

Balboa Park history
Balboa Park History: the park was developed for the 1915-1916 World Fair.

As early as 1835, city officials (from the Mexican government) designated a large tract of land for recreational purposes - some of this later became Balboa Park. Established more than 165 years ago, this area is one of the oldest sites in current-day USA to have been dedicated solely for the purpose of parks & recreation.

Balboa Park history
Statue of Kate Session at the Founders Plaza in Balboa Park
Despite this early start, not much was done. In 1848, after the Mexican-American war, the land became the property of the USA. In 1850, the land then became a property of the newly established state of California.

In 1868, San Diego city planners dedicated 1400 acres of land to be made into a City Park just northeast of New Town. In time, New Town became downtown San Diego while the City Park became Balboa Park. For many years, City Park was not developed and remained an open space. A few buildings were constructed but they were far and few in between.

In the early 1890's, Katherine Olivia Session ("Kate Session") supervised the planting of trees in the west side of City Park. She was a horticulturist and she imported seeds from around the world. Her work at Balboa Park resulted in hundreds of planted trees including cypress, pine, oak, pepper, and eucalyptus. Much of today's plants and gardens in Balboa Park may be attributed to Kate Session's vision of a lush, green park: she is considered by many as the "Mother of Balboa Park".

In 1909, the people of San Diego voted to host the World Fair. This event was in honor of the completion of the Panama Canal. Once a vessel crossed into the Pacific Ocean, it could sail north to the first US port: the port of San Diego.

In 1915, City Park was formally named Balboa Park in recognition of Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the first European to cross the Panama Canal. Many buildings, gardens, stages, and fountains were erected in preparation of the World Fair. Architect Bertram Goodhue encouraged a Spanish Colonial revival style which gives Balboa its a distinctive look.

Balboa Park history
Organ Pavilion in 1915

Balboa Park history
Casa de Prado 1916
All the hard work paid off, the 1915 World Fair was a success and was extended for a second year. During this time, 3.8 million people visited Balboa park giving San Diego nation wide recognition.

In 1935, Balboa Park hosted another World Fair: the California Pacific International Exposition. During this time, new buildings were erected and old one were renovated. After two years, 6.7 million people had visited the Park: another success in the Balboa Park history.