Groundbreaking for new cottages in Balboa Park's House of Pacific Relations is slated for November, giving nine nations their own dedicated spaces in four duplexes and one stand-alone building. House of Philippines will stand independently, while Peru, Palestine, Mexico, India, Lebanon, Turkey, Panama, and Korea will have 600-square-foot spaces in the four duplexes. (Colombia was slated for a spot but withdrew; Korea took over the spot.)
George Novinger, president of the New International Cottages Committee and of the House of Peru, said the committee is looking forward to moving into the houses — and disbanding.
"We set up a short-term nonprofit in 2007 to go through the bureaucratic process to get the houses approved," he said. "Everyone who wants a cottage will get a cottage."
The original cottages were built in 1935 as the world pulsed with nationalism and World War II was on the horizon with the emergence of fascism in Europe. The cottages were intended to showcase nations and cultures (thus, Palestine) and to promote friendship and tolerance. The House of Pacific Relations ("pacific" as in "peaceful") has grown from the original 15 members to 34, with a number of the permanent members using the Hall of Nations on a rotating basis. They've faced big challenges in trying to get more space because the area is small, well defined, and historically significant, Novinger said.
Mexico is currently one of the homeless houses using the Hall of Nations on a rotating schedule. Enrique Morones, community activist and founder of the Border Angels, called for Mexico to have its own house and started a petition on Change.org that has garnered around 735 signatures.
Morones said he founded the nonprofit House of Mexico 20 years ago and then had to fight for inclusion in the Balboa Park houses. "Mexico should have its own house," he said. "But it's good that we'll finally have a presence there — long overdue — and eventually we will get our own house."
Art Castro, an architect and the current president of the House of Mexico, said his group is pleased with the outcome, happy to share a duplex with India, and almost fully funded.
"We have to conform to the historic building design and to preserve as much public land as possible," Castro said. "We are building these knowing they are probably the last cottages built there."
The decision about who gets the single house came down to seniority, Novinger said. And any group that wants a cottage must raise money to pay for its construction, estimated at around $2 million for the five cottages. "We are almost fully funded," Novinger said.
Three duplex cottages will be added just south of the main complex, near the United States and Ukraine houses. The five cottages then will have a central shared courtyard, according to the city's environmental impact report. The remaining duplex and single cottages will be added just north of the Hall of Nations Building and the House of Iran, according to city documents.