Exploring Balboa Park: Adieu

Posted: December 4th, 2015 | Columnists, Exploring Balboa Park, Featured | No Comments

By Johnny McDonald

Editor’s Note: This is Johnny McDonald’s last Exploring Balboa Park column, as he informed this editor of his impending departure early this past summer and kept his word, much to her chagrin. We at San Diego Downtown News thank him for sharing what our city’s Crowned Jewel has to offer our readers and for his many other contributions over the years. We wish him health, happiness and good fortune in his future endeavors. We also hope he’ll pop by to contribute here and there, so watch this space.

Johnny McDonald

Johnny McDonald

By contrast, the traditional joyous, musical and entertaining December Nights have brought a close to a relatively quiet Balboa Park Centennial celebration.

The holiday spirit brought out over 300,000 visitors.

“I think over the year, the Centennial has been a quiet success,” said Carol Chang, president of the Balboa Park Conservancy. “We know expectations were for it to be a spectacular event that would attract worldwide attention. The dollars were not there to do what was intended.

“Still, it was a wonderful time for our citizens to really enjoy the park.”

Unsaid was the city’s $3 million investment in Balboa Park Centennial Inc. to generate a World’s Fair-style spectacle. However, after several months the company failed to obtain sponsorships and disbanded, using up two thirds of the bankroll.

Chang remarked that the Conservancy was created to take the park into the next century and make it a “fabulous destination.”

“It needs more embellishment or enhancement, if you will, to make it shine as the jewel it is,” she said. “We need to look carefully at our water supply. That is major for a park of its nature. But in a drought, it becomes very tricky.”

She said it is important to spend more time with those buildings not managed by cultural institutions like the Balboa Park Club and the Botanical Building. This includes design contracts and fundraising.

“Bring it back to being historically correct,” she stressed. “We will work with the Committee of 100, Friends of Balboa Park, and the Park and Recreation Department to share their views,” Chang said.

“The Committee is working on a cultural landscape plan while members of the Friends sit in with our projects committee,” she said. “They’re in the mix to make sure we don’t do anything crazy.”

Next up is a year-long Centennial at the San Diego Zoo and Chang said the Conservancy would like to be a part of that.

“There is a friendship pathway connecting the park and zoo” she reminded. “After all, they’re part of the park, too.

“The zoo has announced special displays in its Centennial Plaza with two new film experiences and a new show at the Wegeforth Bowl.

On May 14, they’re taking the celebration to Balboa Park for a spectacular centennial event that everyone, they say, can roar about. It’s time to party.

Elsewhere in the Park … there will be a Holiday Market at Mingei International Museum, Dec. 10, 5 – 8 p.m …. Ales & Rails and Ugly Christmas Sweater Party at the Model Railroad Museum, Dec. 11, 7 – 9 p.m….The Art of Music: Art After Hours at the Museum of Art, Dec. 11, 5 – 8 p.m….Yo’ Mama’s Got Drama at the Balboa Park Club & Ballroom on Dec. 11, 7 p.m.…“The Polar Express” at the Model Railroad Museum, Dec. 12, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. … after the new year, the 41st annual Small Image Show at Spanish Village Art Center’s Gallery 21 is open to all San Diego artists and runs from Jan. 25 to Feb. 28. The purpose is to provide a unique challenge for the artist by utilizing a small image concept in the widest range of visual expression. Artwork must measure no more than 10 inches in any direction, including frame, base and display.

—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. You can reach him at

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