Spring renewal in Balboa Park

Posted: April 7th, 2017 | Columnists, Featured, Growing Balboa Park | No Comments

By Reema Makani Boccia | Growing Balboa Park

Spring is a time of renewal, and there is no better place to see this firsthand than at the Jewel of San Diego, Balboa Park.

There are a number of entities that help to preserve all the park has to offer, and Friends of Balboa Park is one such affinity organization that is proud to be an integral part of bringing enhancements to the park’s many facets.

Below are just a few of the projects and events it provides for the community to enjoy this spring:

Gate houses

Friends of Balboa Park recently hosted a ribbon cutting for its latest completed restoration project, the two gate houses on each side of the Cabrillo Bridge entrance to Balboa Park.

The structures were originally built in 1915 as ticket booths for the Panama-California Exposition. Over the years, they fell into disrepair and disuse, but were taken on as a project by Friends in 2014.

March 29 marked the momentous occasion in which they were restored to their original splendor, thanks to Friends of Balboa Park donors, volunteers and local preservation experts.

Beautiful structures now welcome visitors to the west end of the park, just as was intended more than a century ago.

California Tower chimes on

Friends has recently undertaken upgrading one of the most iconic park structures, the California Tower.

The ornate, 208-foot-tall Spanish-style monument was completed in 1914 to greet visitors to the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.

In 1946, a 30-chime carillon was installed, ringing musical chimes played on a keyboard.

In 1967, the carillon was upgraded with a “100-bell symphonic carillon,” and the chimes were amplified through eight large bullhorn speakers mounted in the arched openings near the top of the tower.

The old speakers detract from the old Spanish bell tower as well as the park experience and lead people to believe the chimes are pre-recorded, even though they are live.


Friends of Balboa Park is correcting this 70-year-old eyesore by consulting with acoustical engineers to upgrade the 1940s technology with smaller, state-of-the-art speakers.

The plans call for new weather-resistant speakers, new wiring and possibly a new amplifier.

The new speakers will be smaller than the current speakers and set back into the arches to help conceal them in the shadows.

Look for the enhanced California Tower in the fall, and we hope you will think of Friends for its contribution to the park!


Arbor Day, April 28

Did you know Friends of Balboa Park is the only official partner with the city’s Park and Recreation Department that facilitates a member of the community dedicating a tree in Balboa Park?

As such, National Arbor Day will be celebrated on Friday, April 28 by dedicating 44 new trees to be planted throughout the park.

There were a number of trees uprooted during recent winter storms, and this wonderful program allows members of the public to help ensure the park remains lush at minimal cost to the city.

For more information about dedicating a tree, visit

Butterfly Release, May 27

Friends is thrilled to invite the community to its 10th annual Butterfly Release on Saturday, May 27 in the Zoro Garden of Balboa Park.

The free event is officially part of the annual Fiesta Botanica, and will provide a hands-on educational experience and family-oriented entertainment to more than 3,000 people, including the Hullabaloo Band, Fern Street Circus and Ms. Smarty-Plants.

Thanks to the community’s generous sponsors, 1,000 butterflies will be released into the park this year, which help pollinate the local flora and enhance the park. If interested in becoming an event sponsor, tax deductible donation levels begin at just $100 and help the nonprofit to keep the event free of charge.

We look forward to spring around the park!

—Reema Makani Boccia is a public relations consultant who serves as communications officer for Friends of Balboa Park. For more information, visit

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