Thursday, October 1, 2015



It's 5:30 a.m. at the San Diego International Airport; I still have an hour to wait for my early morning flight. I happen to notice the West Gallery near my gate. I decide to enter the peaceful glassed-in room to find out more about the artwork on the walls. They are original works by Peruvian-born Guillermo Acevedo, who has received honors for his work in illustrating and documenting San Diego's neighborhoods and landmarks. I then sit on a gallery bench to enjoy a five-minute historical video about Balboa Park.

This is my initial introduction to the over 30 displays throughout the airport celebrating the 100th anniversary of the San DiegoPanama-California Exposition that opened in Balboa Park in January 1915. It seems fitting that this airport, with thousands of visitors passing through every day, would participate in a celebration of an event that attracted 3.8 million people from all over the world—long before jet planes were on the drawing board.

This is a time when a small town of 38,000 manages to convert a city park in a desert into an oasis of lush gardens and exquisitely designed buildings of Spanish Colonial Revival and related architecture. The Panama Canal is complete, and San Diego is the first American port-of-call on the Pacific Coast. A group of San Diego citizens decide this is worthy of an exhibition that will place San Diego on the map for its architecture, landscape, and quality of life. It is done in style and lead by local architect Bertrand Goodhue and others who had the courage to follow their dreams, despite the doubters.

When I return to the airport a week later, and with time to wait before Ron can pick me up, I decide to look around for some of the other displays. It's mid-day on a Wednesday and the airport is relatively quiet. I find a Starbuck's for coffee and then the search begins to find works of art by local artists, reproductions of historical photographs and postcards, murals, and other artifacts from the 1915 Balboa Park Exposition. Immediately, I notice some great colorful banners honoring the Exposition along the corridor leading to the gates.

I pick up one of the brochures, Balboa Park & the City, that are available throughout the airport. This is my guide to the Contemporary Perspectives portion of the exhibit featuring ten local artists and organizations. I am intrigued by a location in the airport called Sunset Cove where two of the works can be found. I manage to find it, and now I know that it is the name for the new circular section overlooking the airport in Terminal 2. This is home to a food court with the Bubbles wine bar in the center that offers $22 glasses of champagne. I stop at the Red Mango kiosk to make my own yogurt sundae with fresh fruit. I pay by the ounce and the bill is $4.11—it is just what I want and not a bad price for airport food. I also enjoy local photographer Lee Sie's dramatic images of Balboa Park and San Diego cityscapes that are on display at the entry.

Next, I discover numerous displays of antique lighting fixtures secured in showcases that are copies of original 1935 chandeliers designed by Richard Requa and constructed from compressed paper for the House of Hospitality in Balboa Park. The new creations are done by Gibson & Gibson Antique Lighting.

If you are traveling through airport Terminal 2 with children, don't miss the impressive floor to ceiling wall panels of artwork from the 2013 children's picture book, The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins and illustrated by Jill McElmurry. (Lucky Mila is getting this one for Xmas.) The book tells the story of horticulturist KateSessions' life and ambitions to turn the dusty hills of Balboa Park into a garden worthy of the 1915 Exposition. Sessions, who is referred to as the “Mother of Balboa Park,” made a deal with the city in 1892 to lease 30 acres of land for her nursery with a promise to plant 100 trees a year in Balboa Park and 300 trees in other parts of San Diego.

An impressive bronze statue of Kate Sessions (1857-1940) stands near the Sixth Avenue entrance to the park; it is often adorned with flowers placed in her memory by those passing by.


Directly above the baggage carousels are mannequins adorned in elegant vintage clothing. The dresses and suits are on loan from the Old Globe Theater's costume collection for production set between 1900 and 1920. They are a sharp contrast to the casual wear we see at the airport today and a reminder of how the world has changed.

I then notice some display cases with old memorabilia near the Terminal 2 baggage area that include an official daily program, advertising signs, books, and jewelry from the event.

Outside the Terminal 1, there is a large official Seal from the Exposition that depicts a ship going through the Panama Canal. It's a beautiful design. However, my favorites are the large murals of actual scenes from the event showing the ornate Spanish architecture and lush gardens—many still standing today. This quote is posted on the wall next to the murals:

     It is so beautiful that I wish to make an earnest plea...I hope that
     not only will you keep these buildings running for another year
     but you will keep these buildings of rare phenomenal taste and
     beauty permanently.              -Theodore Roosevelt, 1915

PAGE FROM THE TREE LADY: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever 

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