Posted by: cantmisssd | February 9, 2010

Botanical Building

(As usual, San Diego Historical Society goes further and Natalie Kardos takes better pictures than me.)

The Botanical Building in Balboa Park is one of the original park structures, built for the 1915-16 Expo that meaningfully launched the park. It also happens to be one of the most recognizable spots in the park, a beauty from inside and out and, as an added bonus- always free. These days, the 250-foot-long building, fronted by the reflective Lily Pond and flanked by the Timken Museum of Art and Casa del Prado is home to more than 350 species of plants, cycled through the domed lath building seasonally, adding up to 2,100 plants. It includes a seasonal poinsettia display and a scratch and sniff section that I’ve yet to tire of. But it’s been a long road to get here.

The Botanical Building, and the two reflecting ponds, weren’t in the original plans for the Expo. But Alfred D. Robinson, the founder and long-time president of the San Diego Floral Association, had big ideas that caught the embracing-nature zeitgeist of the time. Despite a series of arrivals and departures among those responsible for the design of the building, park and expo, the Botanical Building remained a key piece of the puzzle and opened at the beginning of 1915 in time to welcome the Expo.

No sooner had the Expo closed than World War One arrived. The larger of the two ponds (La Lagunita is the smaller, La Laguna the larger) was converted temporarily to provide swimming lessons to the servicefolks from the Naval Training Station. Between wars, it was allowed to revert back to the less demanding responsibilities of reflecting and generall being placid, but in World War Two, it was deepened and once again pressed into service as a swimming pool for patients of the Naval Hospital. Residents with the temerity to protest the military co-opting their public space were deemed unpatriotic, suggesting that people who object to the military having veto power over freedom have never actually been popular.

Since then, it’s been through several rounds of renovations and re-imaginings, and a number of other gardens have grown up throughout the rest of the park. But the Botanical Building, and all the history behind it, remains unique as a place where the plants surround you and insist that you breathe it all in before you leave.

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