What’s on track for the Centennial

Posted: January 10th, 2014 | Columnists, Exploring Balboa Park, Featured | 1 Comment

Johnny McDonald | Balboa Park

A chat about the Centennial

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part Q & A. Look for Part II in the January 31 edition of San Diego Downtown News.

For some time, San Diego has looked forward to celebrating the 100-year anniversary — officially called the “Centennial” — of one of our region’s defining events, the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.

The 1915 Exposition — which celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and the new commerce it would bring — drew four million people to what was then a town of just 39,000. It put San Diego and its port on the map for the maritime industry, political and business leaders, and generations of tourists.

The Exposition was also catalyst for the economic growth of our region and spurred the development of Balboa Park, which today stands as one of the great urban parks in the world.

Two years ago the City Council decided the Centennial could best succeed if it was organized by a non—profit organization. As a result, the City delegated the job to Balboa Park Celebration, Inc. (BPCI), led by an all-volunteer board of directors. Then to further support the effort, the City and the Tourism Marketing District allocated seed money to the nonprofit.

BPCI is inviting the community to use the yearlong event to showcase San Diego’s innovation, cultural diversity and unique quality of life, and recently announced it was bringing on board Utopia Entertainment to work with local organizations to produce the attractions, festivals and forums that will draw millions to San Diego in 2015.

We recently asked Gerry Braun, BPCI’s communications director, for an update on the Centennial planning.

Johnny McDonald/SDCNN:  What will be Utopia’s overall role?

Gerry Braun/BPCI: One reason we’re so excited to have Utopia Entertainment on board is they have the talent and experience to produce anything, from a recurring theme-park show — which they do on three continents — to a weekend community festival. Think of them as the master event producer, working with local event companies to develop, organize and execute the various programs within the Centennial Celebration calendar. Check them out at

SDCNN: At the outset, a Museum CEO told us he thought the Centennial should be similar to a World’s Fair. Will you be seeking international attention?

BPCI: Absolutely. One of our goals the City set for us is to attract local, national and international visitors. And our potential to put “heads in beds” is the reason the Tourism Marketing District agreed to fund marketing development and outreach this year. Our plan is to target audiences around the world based on their interest in the programs we present. So if, for instance, we hold an international surf-guitar contest, or a craft beer competition, we’ll be marketing those weekends to surf-guitar and craft beer enthusiasts around the world.

SDCNN: Normally, finding Park parking space in the summer months is very difficult during peak hours. Can the current lots be expanded? Will the parking space needed for employees, volunteers and docents create an added problem for visitors seeking parking space? Should the working personnel be bused in?

BPCI: Thanks, Johnny, but the goals given to us by the City are ambitious enough. The parking problems of Balboa Park, which have been developing for decades and will require millions of dollars to fix, will have to be solved by others. But we can learn from experience, and so we’ll do what we can to improve access and circulation. The new Balboa Park tram system will increase use of the underutilized Inspiration Point lot and efforts will be made to direct employees to parking spaces farther from the park core. A new rapid bus line will serve the park by 2015 and shuttle service is a possibility.

SDCNN: Will museum attendance prices be standardized? Admission charges differ now.

BPCI: Visitors can now buy an annual pass that provides access to the 17 Balboa Park museums and education centers. It’s an amazing value. For information on the Balboa Park Explorer, go to

Coleman receiving Ford C. Frick Award from National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005. (Courtesy San Diego Padres)

Coleman receiving Ford C. Frick Award from National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005. (Courtesy San Diego Padres)

“Star” of Padres to hang no more

We were preparing an additional item to our column about longtime Padres broadcaster Jerry Coleman receiving a lifetime achievement award Feb. 23 at the San Diego Hall of Champions Salute to the Sports Stars at the Town and Country Hotel.

Then news came late Sunday that after a brief illness, he had passed away. He was 89.

A likable man who made friends with so many. It was always easy to reach Jerry.

We called upon him to be a member of a baseball panel I arranged several years ago for a Press Club audience. He joined Randy Jones and others to talk about the sport he loved. However, he expressed his deep concern about enhancement drugs and spiraling salaries

Another time was in the office of Hall of Champions founder Bob Breitbard prior to one of the many luncheons he attended.  Having been a former baseball writer we had several mutual friends.

Breitbard liked to listen to our banter.

Jerry Coleman in his Corsair in Korea in the early 1950's (courtesy of San Diego Padres)

Jerry Coleman in his Corsair in Korea in the early 1950’s (courtesy of San Diego Padres)

Jerry had an outstanding career playing second base for the New York Yankees when they won four World’s Series and he was MVP in one of them.

But his baseball career was interrupted twice, each time to serve as a Marine bomber pilot in World War II and Korea.

He reached the rank of Lieutenant colonel and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Coleman never talked much about his wartime experiences except to say that his proudest award was receiving his gold wings.

Jerry will also be remembered at the San Diego Air and Space Museum. A reconstructed Corsair, similar to the one he flew, bears his name on the side.

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


One Comments

Leave a Comment