By Lori Saldaña
As George Santayana famously observed: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” But in the case of the Pan-American centennial planning, organizers need to learn from the history of the event to help them re-create its grandeur and appeal, and make the 2015 Balboa Park centennial a celebration of innovation, rooted in the first Exhibition’s origins.
Here’s a brief statement of the original events’ main theme: “The purpose of the Panama-California Exposition is to illustrate the progress and possibility of the human race, not for the exposition only, but for a permanent contribution to the world’s progress.”
There may still time to develop a successful 2015 Balboa Park centennial celebration, especially if planners and city leaders broaden their vision to take into account the main themes and purpose of the original celebration,
I was often reminded of this history while serving in the Assembly. During certain legislative hearings I had the opportunity to admire posters of various exhibitions that have taken place throughout California over the past 100 years. These colorful images are displayed in one of the committee hearing rooms, and they celebrate and remind us of the state’s rich variety and history of trade, science, innovation and architecture, as well as the natural beauty and wealth of our coastlines, agricultural lands, fisheries, mountains and forests.
The Pan-American Exposition posters show vintage San Diego landscapes with views of San Diego bay, since the 1915 Pan American Exhibition was tied to the opening of the Panama Canal and highlighted San Diego’s links to seaports and expanding ocean trade routes.
Looking at these posters helped me realize that many of the things that attracted people to California and San Diego 100 years ago haven’t really changed. A century ago people came from around the world, many via the newly opened canal, to enjoy not just the exhibition, but the region’s natural beauty, inviting coastline, proximity to Latin America, and the blending of classic architecture with a pleasant Mediterranean
For people sweating in humid heat or shivering in frigid cold, the climate was reason enough to visit San Diego, and the added opportunity for enjoying entertainment, innovation (as highlighted by the technology of the canal) and special events only added to the allure.
Just imagine if today’s civic leaders and event planners could likewise develop a broader vision of links between trade, global innovation and regional sustainability as part of the 2015 celebration. They could do this by showcasing technology that embraces both the future of the region while celebrating our past.
This could include global trade and it’s connections to San Diego’s port, which recently installed a cold ironing facility to provide cleaner dockside power to visiting ships. That’s an excellent example of “progress to better humanity,” which, with a little imagination, could be linked to events of 100 years ago. (E.g., Tall Ships festival.)
Also consider the model of the USS Midway, to see how retrofitting an old “structure” can attract hundreds of thousands of paying visitors curious about the past and the use of technology for innovation.
The Midway is both a floating museum and a science and technology center, and has become one of the most popular entertainment venues in the country. Add it to the celebration, to keep with the 2015 port themes. Perhaps the Centennial planners could learn from the board-members of the Midway Foundation about how to incorporate and promote renovation, civic pride and historic preservation while celebrating Balboa Park’s proximity to the bay and ocean.
To continue linking our region’s technology and innovation advantages: develop a vision of aesthetic renewable energy into the park itself, by adding on-site solar and wind generation to power the historic buildings. Incorporate them into new centennial displays and entertainment throughout Balboa Park: Creatively designed and strategically placed Solar panels could be used to both provide shade and charge electric cars in parking lots (see: Kyocera and SAIC) and to also provide shade for visitors in the central plaza, now clear of cars.
San Diegans are not only producers but notorious early adopters of new technology. Little-known fact: when the Prius was first introduced, San Diego quickly became home to the world’s largest Prius Owners Club.
With that in mind, encourage the Automotive Museum to contact auto manufacturers from around the world and invite them to to display their latest, cleanest, most fuel-efficient cars. This exhibit could become an ongoing clean car show, and would likely lead to many sales as well as curious visitors.
Encourage manufacturers of innovative public transit solutions to set up shuttle services adjacent to the park, so visitors have many clean, emission-free options to arrive and depart.
Do the same for aircraft. The region has a unique and interesting aeronautical history. It’s one reason a decommissioned Titan rocket is on display near Gillespie Field.
Small windmills could be installed along the slopes over Hwy. 163, catching the canyon breeze and generating electricity for lighting the Laurel Street bridge with nighttime LED shows similar to those on the Eiffel Tower, but with a horizontal instead of vertical choreography. These displays offer potential sponsorships for energy utilities and LED manufacturers.
Experts would be invited to discuss how historic buildings have been retrofitted to incorporate the most efficient methods of lighting, heating and cooling, and lectures could take place inside the Natural History Museum which has done exactly that. It would be an ongoing, real world lesson of progress and innovation, and a way to not only celebrate the history of San Diego’s crown jewel, but invest in planning for its greener, energy independent future.
Exhibitions in the museums could build on this theme, with artwork related to what’s going on outside their walls.
The sponsors would be companies- local and international – that are actively designing, promoting and incorporating energy conservation, water re-use, sustainable agriculture and the like. Instead of plaques on monuments they would have their names on the solar panels, windmills and retrofitted buildings during the exhibition.
Visitors will be hungry after wandering through all these exhibits so for good measure, add some rainwater collection systems to provide irrigation to living, green walls and rooftops designed to grow fruits and veggies to be served in the park’s new outdoor eateries, located along the perimeter of the central plaza, and catered by restaurants specializing in locally grown food to supplement that being grown in the park. The companies that sponsor the installations get their names on the water and garden structures.
And of course there would have to be a beer garden, perhaps some on-site brewing, as well as wine tasting with products from Northern San Diego County and Baja California, in addition to cuisine from the various international houses.
Logos would be allowed on some of these new installations, but only for a limited amount of time during 2015. But many of these structures would remain in place, along with the money-saving benefits, long after the centennial year has ended, making the park a “solar and wind grove” of energy generation.
Many of these things are already being done on college and university campuses, government and commercial buildings, and in places like Fashion Valley (green wall), which could be used to cross-promote the innovative greening of the historic park.
Finally, invite speakers both locally and from around the world to reinforce this vision via discussions of green buildings, clean cars and transit, planning and sustainability, urban gardening, winemaking, beer brewing, water conservation and renewable energy and- Voila! You will have an exhibition designed for the 21st century, grounded firmly in the historical roots of the original exhibition (“the progress and possibility of the human race, not for the exposition only, but for a permanent contribution to the world’s progress.”) and it’s enduring celebration of 20th century trade, travel and technology.
Of course, there is bound to be resistance to all this. But the fact is: the first exposition was committed to progress, which requires change. Let’s see if San Diego is ready to celebrate change once again.
John Lawrence says
Excellent article, Lori! I particularly like the idea of inviting manufacturers of innovative public transit solutions to provide transit in and out of the park. Extending the trolley up Park Blvd would do much to alleviate the inevitable traffic jams that will result when lots and lots or people attempt to access the Park at the same time. There should be an attempt not only to get vehicles out of the Park, but to keep them far enough away so that they don’t jam up traffic getting to and from the Park.
The other ideas are all good too. Invite Tesla to do an exhibit associated with the Automobile Museum. Invite solar and wind energy companies to set up permanent exhibitions and solutions. Funny, why couldn’t BPCI think of any of these ideas and get the various industries involved.
bob dorn says
How ’bout combining wind and solar power to demonstrate desalination? We could put the exhibit in the Zoo’s parking and make a small lake there. People could drink reclaimed sea water under the solar tents.
Let’s hope Lori Saldana has opened a lot of heads to the possibilities. If there’s no time in 2015 to do all she suggests we could delay the party until 2016 and call it CENTENNIAL+.
Lori Saldaña says
Thank you Bob and John for your comments. This is actually an early draft I wrote before the latest proposal was announced Friday. In the link below I’ve added additional details and ideas.
As for the partnership between the city and SDG&E: Apparently the lighting improvements will be permanent and they will use LEDs. They will also recruit new food vendors that offer “more nutritious” selections.
However there is no mention of Onsite energy generation or edible Gardens. I’ve not seen any mention of rainwater harvesting either.
I’m encouraging people to contact their councilmembers and the council presidents office to encourage a more innovative and creative approach to this process. Also ask that they involve more volunteers and small businesses that are already doing so many of these things.
Also I was incorrect: it is an Atlas rocket at Gillespie field not a Titan.
John Lawrence says
The Atlas rocket was originally located in Kearny Mesa at the General Dynamics Convair plant. When Convair folded, someone decided to move the rocket to Gillespie field. Otherwise, it would have gone into the trash.
Lori Saldaña says
I remember that rocket! I grew up in Clairemont and remember those Halcyon days of Convair and General Dynamics.
Gone are the days of massive facilities, thousands of employees, and Unending government contracts for making jobs and guidance systems for missiles.
I don’t see anyone putting a drone on their rooftop.
What would a Comparable 21st-century biotech campus put on display? Up on Campus Point near UCSD it’s native plants, edible gardens, and reclaimed building materials.
Lori Saldaña says
FYI, For Friday’s announcement about the new celebration planning: click here.
Jim Bliesner says
Wouldn’t it be something if someone in City Hall (Mayor) listened to other voices for once even if they are outside the pantheon. If such a miracle would happen then this is an idea whose time has come especially if it extends out and into the neighborhoods.
Anna Daniels says
You are so right Jim, particularly about extending participation out to the neighborhoods. So many of our communities were developed in anticipation of the original exposition. The enormous amount of workers utilized at the time needed housing, transportation, etc. And so places like City Heights, University Heights and Golden Hill were developed.
lori saldana says
Completely agree about expanding into neighborhoods around the Park, if only to educate residents about why their homes look the way they do, inside and out.
How about some articles in the local neighborhood publications, encouraging residents to learn and share stories about their Centennial homes, and discuss its impact on local architecture, design etc. that was influenced by the PanAmerican Expo?
There are unbelievably lavish apartment/homes, near Park and Upas, originally built as temporary housing for visiting “dignitaries.” When I was walking precincts in 2004 for my first Assembly campaign, people invited me in to see these places. Gorgeous interiors!
The beautiful designs, incredible hardwoods, etc. are all “leftovers” from the grand event 100 years ago. Much of the “temporary” housing remained in place, just as many of the temp building in the park became permanent.
John P. Falchi says
Wouldn’t you know it, the pride and joy of environmentalism in San Diego has set forth some excellent ideas about how the Centennial of the Panama California Exposition could be celebrated here in San Diego. Lori Saldana should be thanked, profusely, for demonstrating how the purpose of the original exposition could be weaved into the planning for the upcoming Centennial Exposition to point the way toward our green, independent energy future. I, particularly, like her concept of developing “… a vision of aesthetic renewable energy into the park itself, by adding on-site solar and wind generation to power the historic buildings. Incorporate them into new centennial displays and entertainment throughout Balboa Park.” I would hope that our appointed planners would be open to fresh and constructive ideas, such as those which Ms. Saldana has recommended, and that they would be taken into serious consideration in proceeding with this Centennial Celebration .
Kevin Swanson says
“Streets of Dreams” and “Plazas of Inspiration, Imagination, Innovation and Opportunity.” Automated shuttles within Balboa Park connected to an external loop of hydrogen electric buses. A demonstration power plant on the Arizona Canyon Landfill. 3D projections on buildings around the various plazas that match themes. Workshops outside the institutions that link them to the surrounding Region and the world.
Events around the Region linked under a unifying theme.
All these and more were published in January 2011 at http://www.SanDiego2015.com under the theme “San Diego 2015: Celebrating a Century of Creativity” (Building Toward a Millennium of Sustainability.)
You know what Faulconer’s , Gloria’s, and their BPCI friends response was?
We didn’t think of it, it didn’t come through official channels, and we will not support any of the ideas.