Exploring Balboa Park: Centennial update

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

By Johnny McDonald

Museums have scattered exhibit themes from concept cars, a blend of music and art, remembrances of World War II, and even views of California, from coast to desert, in closing the final centennial stages.

Johnny McDonald

Johnny McDonald

In an appraisal of the Balboa Park celebration thus far, one city official described it as a motivating event.

“The 100-year anniversary of the Panama – California Exposition in Balboa Park has attracted both new and returning visitors to enjoy the normal activities that go on and the various centennial activities,” said Michael Ruiz, district manager for Balboa Park. “Based on numbers from the Balboa Park Visitor Center (BPVC), attendance has been up all year long. It has truly been a community celebration of the park and by that standard a success.”

“Crowds have been tremendous this summer,” a BPVC member emphasized. “The attendance at the centennial music series has been exceptional. Twilight in the Park concerts, concerts in the Plaza, the outdoor film festival, all had great attendance.”

Nathan Young, public relations director at the Fleet Science Center, called it a great year so far.

“Our summer has featured a fun traveling exhibition in ‘Circus: Science Under the Big Top,’” he said.

Other museums without an entertainment format said they noticed a slight attendance increase.

Initial planning by Centennial, Inc. had called for major entertainment and a fair-type presentation to celebrate the 100-year anniversary. Hopes were high that a yearlong event would double park attendance to 20 million and generate 600,000 hotel room nights, the equivalent of four Comic-Cons, and result in $278 million in direct visitor spending. However, after spending $2.6 million — documented by Centennial Inc., themselves — and an inability to obtain sponsorships, the company was disbanded in 2014.

For the remaining months this year, here’s what some of the museums have planned:

  • Auto Museum – appropriately, the Automotive Museum has titled its exhibit, “Balboa Park … the Future.” Opening in October, it will feature concept cars from Nissan and Ford, technology from Google, and a flying car.

“We are still putting it together,” reported Executive Director Paula Brandes.

  • Museum of Art – a large multifaceted Art of Music exhibition has been planned in celebration of the Centennial, Sept. 26 through January. It is themed in relation to the musical performances during the 1915 Exposition.

“The exhibition is the largest in the museum’s recent history, with more than 200 paintings, artifacts and varied musical instruments,” reported Museum of Art’s publicist Lauren Fimbres Wood.

  • Natural History – Next up is Coast to Cactus in Southern California, a permanent entry, which shows a diverse terrain from beaches and chaparral to the mountains and desert. Continuing to January is Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed. And don’t forget fossil history with huge dinosaurs and mammoths.
  • Air & Space – the continuation of an exhibit about World War II, showcasing a rare collection of items from the early days of the war from the European and Pacific theaters.

“This exhibit is the most comprehensive and interesting of its kind in San Diego and is a must see for any history buff, military enthusiast or anyone looking for deeply moving experience,” said James Kidrick, president and CEO.

  • Fleet Science Center – in October the next installment of Fleet Night of Science is back to the Fleet-ure, exploring life in the future. Also practice innovations by composing a musical or making stop-motion animated video with Imaginative.

“Delightfully nerdy experiences,” the Fleet’s Young said. November’s new IMAX film will be “Jerusalem.” Discover why this tiny piece of land is sacred to three major religions through the stories of Jewish, Christian and Muslim families who call Jerusalem home.

  • Museum of Man – Beerology: From ancient times to the craft craze with occasional tastings.

—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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