Balboa Park Timeline

1800s ~ Kumeyaay Indians inhabit numerous villages scattered throughout the San Diego region including Florida/Switzer Canyon and Mission Valley.

1845 ~ Santiago Arguello organizes the first survey of San Diego — the lines laid down in this year establish the patchwork of the Pueblo Lands which eventually give way to the grid work of the city streets and Balboa Park.

ephraim-morse1868 ~ Ephraim Morse (left) presents a resolution to the Board of Trustees of San Diego that land be set aside for a city park. Morse, Thomas Bush and Alonzo Horton select the land north of downtown. Two years later, San Diego becomes the first city west of the Mississippi to set aside land for an urban park. This 1,440 acre tract becomes the site for City Park, now Balboa Park.

1873 ~ Wells drilled by the newly formed San Diego Water Company near site of present Cabrillo Bridge provide first reliable water supply for the city. Two reservoirs are constructed on mesas bordering canyon with a total capacity of 170,000 gallons.

1875 ~ Death of Jose Manual Hatam, the Chief/Captain of the Kumeyaay village of Milejo (present-day Switzer Canyon).

Kate Sessions1890 ~ Over 10,000 trees are planted throughout park.

1892 ~ Kate Sessions (right) leases ten acres of parkland for her nursery. In exchange she agrees to supply trees and plants for the park and other city projects.

george-marston1902 ~ At his own expense, George Marston (left) travels east to hire a worthy landscape architect for the commission of designing San Diego’s 1,400 acre park, known then as City Park. Two months later, at Marston’s invitation, Samuel Parsons, Jr., arrives in San Diego to study the parklands.

1904 ~ Kate Sessions organizes an Arbor Day celebration and 4,000 citizens turn out to help plant about Monterey Cypress trees on what then became known as Cypress Point (southeast of Quince and Balboa Drive).

1910 ~ As construction proceeds on the Panama Canal, boosterism starts in San Diego with the renaming of City Park to honor Vasco Nunez de Balboa the first European to cross the Isthmus of Darien and set eyes on the Pacific Ocean.

1911 ~ The Panama-California Exposition groundbreaking ceremonies begin with a military mass on July 19. The Administration Building is the first to go up, completed in March 1912.

cabrillo-bridge-19151914 ~ Cabrillo Bridge opens on April 12th. Franklin D. Roosevelt (Assistant Secretary of the Navy) accompanies G. Aubrey Davidson and Mayor Charles F. O’Neall in the first automobile to plaza-de-panama-1915cross.

1915 ~ The Panama-California Exposition opens on New Years Day. The carnival-like atmosphere is aimed at travelers arriving through the newly opened Panama Canal. Surviving buildings from this fair include the California Building (Museum of Man), Casa de Balboa, the Botanical Building, House of Hospitality and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.Harry-Wegeforth

1916 ~ Dr. Harry Wegeforth (right) brings the San Diego Zoo into being when animals imported for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition are quarantined and not allowed to leave. He’s reported to have exclaimed to brother Paul, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a zoo.” He puts a notice in the newspaper, asking for support.

1917 ~ In a bid to attract more naval facilities to town, the city leases exposition buildings in Balboa Park to Navy at an annual lease of one dollar. Naval Training Station, Balboa Park is commissioned on 20 May and trains several thousand recruits over the next two years.

1922 ~ Roosevelt Junior High School opens adjacent to the zoo. Six courts for roque, a game similar to croquet, are built at Sixth & Redwood. In later decades, shuffleboard courts are added to the club.

1925 ~ The Southern California Counties Building burns down in November (just prior to the holding of a Fireman’s Ball). This was one of the major 1915 Exposition buildings in Balboa Park. It is replaced by the Natural History Museum.

1927 ~ The Fine Arts Gallery in Balboa Park (now the San Diego Museum of Art), designed by William Templeton Johnson and funded by Appleton Bridges, is dedicated and opens to the public.

1932 ~ A bowling green is constructed on the west mesa just north of the Cabrillo Bridge. The San Diego Lawn Bowling Club has managed the two courts here since.

1935 ~ California-Pacific International Exposition opens. Aging buildings from the 1915-16 expo are revitalized while many new buildings and gardens were developed.

1946 ~ Highway 163 is built through Pound (Cabrillo) Canyon.

1965 ~ The Timken Museum opens. The spare modernism of the building stands out amidst the Spanish Revival theme of the Prado.

balboa-park-fire-19781978 ~ The Electric Building (1915 Exposition’s Commerce and Industries Building, now Casa de Balboa) burns down on February 22, destroyed by arson fire. Two weeks later the world-famed Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park burns to the ground in another arson fire on March 8. After a massive fund-raising drive to rebuild it, a new, three-theater complex opens four years later.

1983 ~ Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II unveils a bust of Shakespeare at the rebuilt Old Globe Theatre.

1998 ~ The Trees for Health Garden is planted northeast of Quince Street and Balboa Drive. Over thirty different medicinal and herbal plants are now growing here.

2000 ~ Boy Scout lease of park lands becomes a political issue as the city faces a lawsuit for granting preferential treatment to an organization that discriminates based on both religion and sexual preference.

2001 ~ After 24 years Christmas on the Prado ends making way for December Nights in Balboa Park.

bridge-fire2004 ~ A June 17 fire set near the base of the Laurel Street Bridge caused a short closing to the popular span, but fortunately the structure remained intact. Winter storms felled over 20 hundred-year-old trees many planted by Kate Sessions.

2005 ~ The 90th birthday of the Spreckels Organ is celebrated on New Year’s Day with a five-hour concert and cake! In November the Committee of 100 join several local politicians for the ribbon cutting on the recreated West Arcade, connecting the Art Museum with the Museum of Man.

2006 ~ The San Diego Historical Society draws several hundred collectors to their first “attic sale” held in much of the museum. Should the park now be run by a nonprofit? Mayor Jerry Sanders thinks so.

plaza-de-panama-20132008 ~ Qualcomm co-founder Dr Irwin Jacobs proposes a bypass bridge from the Cabrillo Bridge to the Alcazar parking lot leading to a paid parking lot. Most San Diegans disagree, but the City Council moves the plan ahead.

2013 ~ Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor kills the plan put forth by Dr. Jacobs, saying it “violated city law.A few months later, Mayor Bob Filner ends vehicular parking in Plaza de Panama without building the bypass or Balboa Park’s first parking garage. The plaza is once more open for pedestrians as San Diego prepares for the Balboa Park Centennial in 2015.