The City Council feared it would lose a multimillion-dollar gift for Balboa Park if it did not act quickly and in favor of the proposal the donors had in mind.

That familiar-sounding scenario was the talk of the town in the early 1960s.

Two influential families with connections to San Diego wanted to build a new museum in Balboa Park to house Old Masters paintings. The art, worth $2 million, would come from the Putnam sisters, nieces of an inventor whose innovations included a wire used to fasten corks to bottles. And the $1 million for the building would come from the Timkens — Ohio-based ball bearing magnates.

Around the same time, the San Diego Museum of Art, known then as the Fine Arts Gallery, wanted to build a new west wing.

But both plans would mean tearing down original structures built for the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition. The buildings were condemned, but San Diegans had grown attached to the Spanish-Colonial village over the years, and weren’t about to let the buildings go quietly.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

The buildings in question were the Science and Education Building to the west of the Fine Arts Gallery, and the Home Economy Building, on the northeast corner of the Plaza de Panama. Here are photos of how it looked originally, from the Committee of One Hundred.

The Science and Education Building:

 

And the Home Economy Building:

 

But the proposed new buildings were starkly different from that ornately decorated Spanish-Colonial style. The Putnams’ and Timkens’ foundation favored a Modernist structure with sharp edges, engineered with modern considerations for lighting art and moving people through the space. The original buildings had never been planned for permanent museums — many were just shells with whitewashed rooms inside for exhibits.

City leaders and citizens engaged in the public discussion of the plans argued over how to retain Balboa Park’s historicity while allowing the park to house the gifts. Public outcry mounted.

“It’s nothing but four walls, a flat roof and a bunch of columns,” Pat Murphy, a member of the Balboa Park Protective Association, was quoted in a November 1961 San Diego Union article as saying. “It’s no more Spanish than a Salvation Army lassie would be if you put a tambourine in her hand.”

But the proposed one-story Modernist building carried its own charm for some local architects, who favored the departure from the stage-scenery-style buildings that were there to begin with.

City Councilman Ross Tharp thought the new building, designed by architect Frank L. Hope, would stick out like a sore thumb.

“Except that it wouldn’t be a sore thumb, it would be a beautiful thumb,” replied City Manager George Bean, adding that it was “wrong to assume that modern architecture cannot be as beautiful as historical architecture,” according to a Union article.

In response to the public outcry over the design, and the city’s uncertainty, Walter Ames, the attorney representing the families’ foundations, took the donation off the table.

A 1961 editorial in the Union newspaper proclaimed “Gift Horse Kicked.”

“The City Council, unable to decide, unsure of the right of things, afraid to act, has kicked away a tremendous cultural asset to the city,” the newspaper seethed.

Soon, city leaders called Ames back and pleaded with him to reconsider, without architectural strings attached.

We’ve been looking at episodes from the park’s 140-plus-year history of big changes and controversies, as controversy came to a head in July over a plan to remake the park’s western entrance with a new bridge and a paid parking structure. The opponents of the plan sued the city Monday.

The Timken example offers an interesting look at how the city has navigated philanthropy in the park in the past. The current controversy in the park also involves philanthropy. Crying broke, the city has asked for philanthropists to step up to take on deferred projects and complete needed maintenance for the city’s crown jewel, especially as the 100-year anniversary of the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition nears. Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs is the most prominent philanthropist involved in the plan to reroute cars away from the Plaza de Panama, reserving that space for pedestrians. He’s faced criticism about vehemently pushing his plan despite cries the project will damage the park’s historic character. When the City Council approved the plan in July, several councilmembers commented they didn’t want to risk losing Jacobs’ commitment to raising or personally contributing the lion’s share of the $45 million project.

Back to the Timken controversy: the city’s begging worked. But they still had to deal with unhappy residents.

As we learned in our earlier look at the 1915-1916 exposition, some of the old exposition buildings were falling apart and were never meant to be permanent. (Park designer Bertram Goodhue had even said that “only by thus razing all of the temporary buildings will San Diego enter upon the heritage that is rightfully hers.”)

But park archivist Richard Amero wrote that the original exposition buildings carried an “essential friendliness.

It was that, and “their associations with the glamour and opulence of a vanished past that made these buildings so endearing to people,” he wrote.

A 1961 San Diego Magazine piece summed up the situation the city’s decision created:

But now, if the gift is re-instated as seems likely, for better or for worse, the city has embarked on a new, dangerous — and highly challenging — experiment: the partial rebuilding of Balboa Park attempting to preserve the best of the old … at the same time creating new architecture compatible with the old and as good or better than the beloved if sham Spanish relics of 1915. It is going to be an awfully difficult job under the best circumstances — calling for rare architectural excellence and taste — but it hasn’t a ghost of a chance at success if it is done with the to-hell-with-the-public spirit which has marked the Timken wing controversy.

Soon after the Timken opened in 1965, a citizen’s group launched to keep fighting to preserve the existing original buildings. That group, the Committee of One Hundred, is still around.

And it’s still fighting the modern additions along El Prado.

“We believe it’s a realistic prospect that, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, one of the two modern buildings on the Plaza de Panama will outlive its usefulness and be replaced by a replica of the original 1915 Exposition Building,” said Mike Kelly, the Committee’s current president.

The current director of the free-admission Timken Museum, John Wilson, told us recently he enjoys the juxtaposition of his building’s architecture with the surrounding ones on El Prado.

Anything is complemented by something that is different to it, which is why you have sweet-and-sour pork. The Putnam Foundation wanted a modern building, and there was a very strong trend of building modern museums to house the artwork of the past.

This building is all about art and making sure there are no barriers to seeing art.

But nearly 50 years after the building’s opening, Kelly doesn’t behold the same beauty.

“The Timken Museum is a wonderful asset and should certainly stay in Balboa Park,” Kelly said, “but its modern building has always been out of place.”

♦♦♦

Here are two postcards showing the buildings in question, from the 1915-1916 exposition. These come from David Marshall, an architect who’s worked on restoring several Balboa Park buildings. Here’s Marshall’s 2007 article for the Save Our Heritage Organisation’s magazine about 10 original landmarks in the park that are no longer there.

The Science and Education Building was replaced by the west wing of the San Diego Museum of Art.

 

The Home Economy Building was replaced by the Timken Museum.

 

Coming in future posts: Freeways cut through the park and the U.S. Navy expands its hospital’s footprint in Balboa Park.

Disclosure: Irwin Jacobs is a major supporter of Voice of San Diego.

I’m Kelly Bennett, reporter for Voice of San Diego. You can reach me directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531.

And follow Behind the Scene on Facebook.

    This article relates to: Arts/Culture, Balboa Park, Community, News, Parks

    Written by Kelly Bennett

    Kelly Bennett is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. You can reach her directly at kelly@vosd.org.

    38 comments
    Activist
    Activist

    Need one mention what is a national crisis as reported in the August 25th Wall Street Journal is our country's water. So the Irwin Jacobs' plan not only incudes the water consumed in constructing the Bypass bridge, connecting road and parking garage but includes the ongoing maintenance of the proposed parkland that would be on top of the underground parking garage.

    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    Need one mention what is a national crisis as reported in the August 25th Wall Street Journal is our country's water. So the Irwin Jacobs' plan not only incudes the water consumed in constructing the Bypass bridge, connecting road and parking garage but includes the ongoing maintenance of the proposed parkland that would be on top of the underground parking garage.

    Richard Ross
    Richard Ross subscribermember

    sdteacher needs to do their homework. Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), other preservationists, and the majority of the general public support removing parking from the Plaza de Panama. What they opposed is the fiscally irresponsible (adding to the parks $240 million in arrears maintenance costs) and historically destructive (proposed Bypass Bridge) Irwin Jacobs' Plan.

    Activist
    Activist

    sdteacher needs to do their homework. Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), other preservationists, and the majority of the general public support removing parking from the Plaza de Panama. What they opposed is the fiscally irresponsible (adding to the parks $240 million in arrears maintenance costs) and historically destructive (proposed Bypass Bridge) Irwin Jacobs' Plan.

    Kevin Swanson
    Kevin Swanson subscribermember

    Can we do better? I would like to hope.

    Syntropic
    Syntropic

    Can we do better? I would like to hope.

    Carol Simpson
    Carol Simpson subscribermember

    The Timken doesn't fit and I've always thought it was an ugly building. I didn't know the background. The Jacobs plan doesn't fit the Park either and the drawings are ugly, making Balboa Park look like concrete city.

    TycheSD
    TycheSD

    The Timken doesn't fit and I've always thought it was an ugly building. I didn't know the background. The Jacobs plan doesn't fit the Park either and the drawings are ugly, making Balboa Park look like concrete city.

    Cynthia Gladstone
    Cynthia Gladstone subscriber

    A present day paradox: the most modern of buildings, housing the ancient classics. I am grateful it's there!

    cynjy
    cynjy

    A present day paradox: the most modern of buildings, housing the ancient classics. I am grateful it's there!

    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    -- the ditch will take out several old trees across the head of Palm Canyon & behind the Organ Pavilion as well as the "Charlie Brown" Christmas tree.

    LibraryLover
    LibraryLover

    -- the ditch will take out several old trees across the head of Palm Canyon & behind the Organ Pavilion as well as the "Charlie Brown" Christmas tree.

    David Cohen
    David Cohen subscriber

    And we now need the Court system to adjudicate the matter.

    fryefan
    fryefan

    And we now need the Court system to adjudicate the matter.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    People: This is sunny San Diego, where the powers that be regularly tear down great old buildings and replace them with cheap, sterile junk buildings, and the local media typically praise them for doing so. The same thing goes for great historic parks. If rich people want something, our politicians will find a way to make it happen.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood

    People: This is sunny San Diego, where the powers that be regularly tear down great old buildings and replace them with cheap, sterile junk buildings, and the local media typically praise them for doing so. The same thing goes for great historic parks. If rich people want something, our politicians will find a way to make it happen.

    sdteacher
    sdteacher

    What I really can't understand is the opposition to a good plan to get the parking lot out of the heart of the park?

    Kimberly de Berzunza
    Kimberly de Berzunza subscriber

    What I really can't understand is the opposition to a good plan to get the parking lot out of the heart of the park?

    Tigershark
    Tigershark

    I'll be the odd voice. I like the Timken. I wish they had not put the Archway along the Prado to hide. Must everything look faux neo-Colonial? If so, what about the Old Globe?

    Rick Smith
    Rick Smith subscriber

    I'll be the odd voice. I like the Timken. I wish they had not put the Archway along the Prado to hide. Must everything look faux neo-Colonial? If so, what about the Old Globe?

    hardcover
    hardcover

    Lucas: the Timken has always been free. The other museums charge about a day's pay for a minimum wage worker for his/her family of 4. Sort of ironic how the museum with the "Hearst Castle" type art is free and the museums featuring "American Indian Skateboards" and "Folk Art of the People" are so pricey.

    Erik Hanson
    Erik Hanson subscriber

    Lucas: the Timken has always been free. The other museums charge about a day's pay for a minimum wage worker for his/her family of 4. Sort of ironic how the museum with the "Hearst Castle" type art is free and the museums featuring "American Indian Skateboards" and "Folk Art of the People" are so pricey.

    Lucas OConnor
    Lucas OConnor subscriber

    As noted, the Timken is free, thus making the Park more accessible to the general public. Did the Timken formerly charge admission like the parking garage would?

    lucasoconnor
    lucasoconnor

    As noted, the Timken is free, thus making the Park more accessible to the general public. Did the Timken formerly charge admission like the parking garage would?

    myearth
    myearth

    I don't oppose "modern" but this is the perfect example of what happens when money is allowed to dictate architecture in a public spaces. I have always felt that the building was ugly in its setting. It's as if someone plopped down a warehouse in the park. First, it is ocmpletely out of place. Second, one doesn't have to look far to see much nicer modern designs. Sadly, much of Balboa Park's history is about things that have wrecked its beauty, taken its land, and used it literally and figuaritively for a trash heap. Don't let the destruction happen this time or there will be future articles lamenting this chapter, in which a rich man is allowed to destroy an iconic bridge and other historical features purely because he has money and power.

    Janet Shelton
    Janet Shelton subscriber

    I don't oppose "modern" but this is the perfect example of what happens when money is allowed to dictate architecture in a public spaces. I have always felt that the building was ugly in its setting. It's as if someone plopped down a warehouse in the park. First, it is ocmpletely out of place. Second, one doesn't have to look far to see much nicer modern designs. Sadly, much of Balboa Park's history is about things that have wrecked its beauty, taken its land, and used it literally and figuaritively for a trash heap. Don't let the destruction happen this time or there will be future articles lamenting this chapter, in which a rich man is allowed to destroy an iconic bridge and other historical features purely because he has money and power.

    Steve Bovee
    Steve Bovee subscriber

    Ugly then and ugly now. Make it go away please.

    Pink
    Pink

    Ugly then and ugly now. Make it go away please.

    David Lundin
    David Lundin subscriber

    So Jacobs exercised his Veto on my comments ?

    DavidnPB
    DavidnPB

    So Jacobs exercised his Veto on my comments ?

    Gregory May
    Gregory May subscriber

    I would love for those original buildings to be rebuilt! That's where big bad Jacobs' money should go!

    gregoryagogo
    gregoryagogo

    I would love for those original buildings to be rebuilt! That's where big bad Jacobs' money should go!

    DavidnPB
    DavidnPB

    San Diego Magazine, 1961.

    David Lundin
    David Lundin subscriber

    The lesson from the Article is don't let the checkbook dictate the design. Thank God for SOHO and others like Mayor-elect Filner who will ensure the Jacobs Plan does not go forward.

    DavidnPB
    DavidnPB

    The lesson from the Article is don't let the checkbook dictate the design. Thank God for SOHO and others like Mayor-elect Filner who will ensure the Jacobs Plan does not go forward.