The last major work on the Botanical Building's lathing was done 40 years should be done every 15.
  • The last major work on the Botanical Building's lathing was done 40 years should be done every 15.
  • courtesy of Balboa Heritage Association
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The Botanical Building in Balboa Park is one the largest lathe structures in the world, according to David Lundin, cofounder of the Balboa Park Heritage Association. The association was formed in 2014 to help create events for the centennial of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. As the highly touted year-long celebration flopped, their focus changed to the preservation of Balboa Park.

When the Botanical Building was young

courtesy of Balboa Park Conservancy Group

Lundin said on April 27, “The Botanical Building was designed to require a major renovation of the redwood lathing every 15 years. This needed work was last done 40 years ago.”

Even though the Balboa Park Conservancy Group selected the Botanical Building in 2013 as their first major restoration project in years, the group has yet to find donors to open their wallets to the tune of more than $3 million. According to Lundin, the last major restoration in Balboa Park was in 1997, when the House of Hospitality was reconstructed.

Per Lundin, the conservancy group is now proposing to spend even more on an expanded renovation of the Botanical Building, requiring the sacrifice of a significant portion of interior space for a gift shop, employees’ bathroom, and chairs and service bars for events.

“The interior would be more open ballroom space than botanical garden,” said Lundin.

The mayor’s promise in January 2016 to break ground on 50 parks in five years leads Lundin to ask, “Why don’t we take better care of the parks we already have rather than building new parks that also must be maintained? Many neighborhoods in the city are unfairly ‘under-parked,’ and changing that should be a priority; however, restoring our crown jewel must also be a priority.”

Will $3 million cover the cost of the Botanical Building's repairs? “Absolutely not."

courtesy of Balboa Heritage Association

As far as other structures in Balboa Park that need immediate attention, Lundin said, “It’s a long list. Casa del Prado and courtyard are a disaster. This was last renovated in 1971. Casa de Balboa has major fresh and wastewater failures, a failed roof, and mold, mildew, and dry-rot everywhere. Only this morning [April 27], the major valves for the fire-suppression system for this building failed.

In November 2015, the conservancy group released a request for proposal for the Botanical Building’s restoration and enhancement. On April 28, Tomás Hererra-Mishler, director of the conservancy group, said that five proposals were submitted in January 2016. Ultimately, RNT Architecture was awarded the project. Hererra-Mishler said, “Their senior designer is well known in the park, as he designed the new Friendship Garden.”

Partnering with RNT will be Spurlock Landscape Architecture and Tres Fromme. “Tres Fromme is a rock star in the world of horticulture,” said Hererra-Mishler. “He’s coming on June 8 at 6:00 p.m. to give a lecture at the Museum of Photographic Arts about public horticulture. He is a super-engaging speaker that knows how to light a spark in people’s imagination.” (To attend, RSVP with Gina at [email protected])

The project will have five phases, with the first planning phase scheduled to be completed by December 1, 2016.

“What’s really exciting is that by mid-summer, the vision should be defined,” he said. “We’ll have wonderful graphics to tell the story with a clear-cut cost estimate so we’ll know how much we need to raise.”

When asked if $3 million is near the total expected budget, Hererra-Mishler said, “Absolutely not. The project has expanded, including the surrounding landscape and reconstructing all original features lost from 1915.”

“What we’ve done is raise $500K for the first planning phase to help quantify the project and allow us to have the conversation that we need to have with stakeholders.”

As far as the other phases, when they start depends on funding availability. The bulk of the funding will still need to come from big donors, with some money raised from special events.

“The other component to the fundraising strategy is that after the renovation, it will cost more to maintain the building than the city has allocated, so we will need endowment funds to make sure it’s kept up to a fantastic level,” said Hererra-Mishler.

New lighting is within the scope of work.

“The lighting we are envisioning for the outside is to highlight the special architecture,” said Hererra-Mishler. “For the inside, we want to add lighting to do a couple of things: highlight plant materials and create more usable hours. We close at 4:00 p.m. now and would like to keep it open later to host after-hour special events.”

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eastlaker May 1, 2016 @ 9:14 a.m.

So the renovations will result in another rentable party space? Don't we have enough of those? Where will the plants go, or will they end up in a compost heap?

Why is it that I completely mistrust this plan?

Oh, I know--because there have been so many other hair-brained schemes, such is the parking structure, and the highway curving through the park--all thought up by some civic leaders with more time on their hands than understanding of design, public park usages and the value of tradition.


dwbat May 19, 2016 @ 2:30 p.m.

Harebrained is the correct usage, as in dumb as a hare. ;-)


dwbat May 1, 2016 @ 9:21 a.m.

Balboa Park comes under Councilmember Todd Gloria's purview. Where's the leadership? Why can't the city sell naming rights to the Botanical Building and/or Casa del Prado?


KLoEditor May 1, 2016 @ 7:26 p.m.

Oh Good God. Taco Bell Botanical, anyone? JoAnn's Crafts Casa?



dwbat May 2, 2016 @ 11:51 a.m.

Nobody here mentioned anything tacky. I was thinking of something tasteful, like Prebys Botanical Building, or Jacobs Casa del Prado (like naming done regularly with universities, hospitals, museums, etc.).


swell May 1, 2016 @ 9:52 a.m.

Party space and a gift shop? Does everything have to be about money and entertainment? Botanical Building is about plants and an educational experience. It's a peaceful environment for contemplation. It draws people from around the world precisely because it is not just another commercial money grab / entertainment venue like most of the other 'museums' and the zoo.


MichaelValentine May 1, 2016 @ 3:01 p.m.

The entire park is a huge draw for international visitors. Every time I walk through the park half the enjoyment is hearing foreign voices, much like City Heights.

The Chargers Stadium as a draw for international visitors? That rates a not so much to not at all.

Investing in city owned assets will always return a profit. And never move to LA.


Javajoe25 May 1, 2016 @ 6:56 p.m.

I think this is what is called "creeping privatization." Take the Prado restaurant; a very nice eatery for the hoity-toity, but most San Diegans who come to the park can't afford it. At the time of its opening, it was explained as a good "income generator" for the park. No one mentioned the loss of a driving lane and parking spaces for the valet service. Then we saw the Museum of Art convert part of the sculpture garden into Panama 66. Another nice place to grab a bite and quaff a pint. A little pricey, but at least there was no major loss of public space. Now, we're going to have ballroom dancing, a gift shop, and a bar inside the Botanical Building? Just to get some lathes replaced? Why does every repair job necessitate a giveaway to private interests? How about all that money that was blown on a whole lot o'nothing for that centennial? Is any of that left? The Botanical Building is one of the most impressive displays of plants, flowers, and trees found anywhere in the county--and it changes with the seasons! Plus, it is one of the few attractions in the park that is still free. Even the so-called San Diego Botanical Garden (formerly Quail Botanical Gardens) up in Encinitas doesn't compare. It would be an irreplaceable loss and a waste of resources to convert this amazing building into anything other than what it currently is; the best damn thing in the whole damn park! Some people just don't know when to count their blessings and leave well enough alone.


KLoEditor May 1, 2016 @ 7:33 p.m.

Ready to spend billions to build a stadium for a billionaire, but can't spare half a mil to fix the Botanical Building. Wait, didn't Mayor Kev pay $2.1M for that EIR re Qualcomm? Nice chunk of money that amounted to nothing. Imagine if that had been spent on the Park.


Ponzi May 1, 2016 @ 7:37 p.m.

For decades there was "Christmas on the Prado." I little bird told me that changed with the change of management at the Prado restaurant and leadership from Qualcomm pushing for a change in name. Look into the timing. And if anyone can find the real reason in writing, please publish it. This is what happens when a public resource, a treasure, is allowed to be taken over by a few elites with money. Where is Balboa Park lover Irwin Jacobs when the best feature of Balboa Park needs a few Woodrow Wilson's for a rehab?


Visduh May 2, 2016 @ 8:40 a.m.

Indeed, where is Jacobs? There are times that his actions suggest he is in his dotage, and fixates on pet notions. Surely with the sums he was prepared to put into the remodeling of the park and its traffic flow, he could finance the rehab--to historical standards and use--of several park buildings and features.

When there was a burst of rehab and restoration and reconstruction in the park in the late-80's and into the 90's, good things happened. But not all were good. Community activities were pushed out in favor of museums and attractions that charged admission. The cost to visit the zoo has risen so high that a large slice of the local population can't afford to see it. In short, the park was being converted to tourist attractions--for well-heeled tourists, of course--at the expense of access and use by San Diegans. Those elites to whom you refer can easily afford to make use of the park, but now it excludes a high proportion of the local population.


dwbat May 2, 2016 @ 11:55 a.m.

Residents DO get free tuesdays at the museums (different ones each week). But yes, the zoo is too expensive.


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