Johnny McDonald | Downtown News
Nursing the botanicals
One of the world’s largest, metal-lathed structures – built for the 1915 Exposition – continues to house some of nature’s most attractive and unusual plant life.
Within the walls of the Botanical Building are more than 2,100 interesting and diverse plants that share the comfort of San Diego’s even temperature. Fascinating collections include cicadas, ferns, orchids, other tropical plants and palms.
“It was the dream of Alfred G. Robinson during the exposition to show people the sort of plants we can grow in San Diego because of our mild climate,” said building superintendent Ansen Caires.
Operated by the City with occasional presentations by Friends of Balboa Park and the San Diego Foundation, this special home makes several transitions during the year and all the work is done by the City gardeners.
Plants begin their cycles in the city’s Balboa Park nursery off of Pershing Drive. Some will eventually be planted elsewhere.
“We do move them in and out, some weekly, according to season, like the tropical plants,” said Caires, whose office is located in the nursery. “When not in bloom, they go back into the nursery.”
He said they would have a huge display of poinsettias in December and will feature lilies in late March or early April and good array of orchids.
“Because that’s a big draw,” Caires said. “Every week we bring in new plants. Two full-time gardeners work in the building and are available to answer questions.”
It’s free to the public on Friday through Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (but closed Thursdays and holidays).
Juggling a pair of jobs
Like most museum leaders, Hall of Champions CEO Mike McDowell faces multiple challenges to keep pace and remain competitive. In his case, he doubles the amount, because not only does he direct the Hall’s activity, but further attention comes as president of San Diego’s Sports Commission.
“This is an exciting challenge for me,” McDowell said. “I obviously bleed Balboa Park, and I have a deep admiration for the Hall of Champions, its founder Bob Brietbard and the role the Hall plays in advancing the many positive ideals of sports throughout our community.
“Wearing two hats is a symbolic relationship whether we exhibit or bring sports events into town,” he said. “Cultivating events or representing them … they’ll be interchangeable for me. Admissions and attendance are something to be addressed with promotional programs for amateur athletics, colleges and high schools.”
He agreed that attendance has been lagging, but the Hall picks up the revenue slack with catered luncheons and banquets. A small restaurant is near the entrance and portions of the building have been subleased.
Each February, a “Salute to the Champions” donor banquet is held at the Town and Country Hotel. It’s an important fundraiser that serves as an encouragement for major memberships and sponsors.
This has also hit the Sports Commission in its efforts to attract major sports events in the area. Previously, it helped bring such events, as air races over San Diego Bay, America’s Cup series yacht races, international rugby and World Baseball.
“What’s going for us are the niche markets. So, we’re looking at surfing, skateboarding, martial arts and gymnastics,” McDowell said. “They can be lucrative for the city and not necessarily as challenging to put on.”
After an award winning, 38-year sports-writing career with the San Diego Union and authoring three books, Johnny McDonald now considers writing a hobby. He enjoys covering aspects of the port district, convention center, Balboa Park, zoo, and stories with a historical bent. You can reach him at email@example.com.