Balboa park is one of the most important parts of the story of San Diego. Nearly 150 years ago, civic leaders took the brave step of setting aside 1,400 acres of a scrub filled mesa, an area that now overlooks what is beautiful downtown San Diego. While San Diego was only home to 2,400 residents back then, they had a vision and desire to create an iconic park that would serve its citizens and its visitors for centuries to come. In fact, San Diego was the second city to dedicate a large urban park behind New York City’s Central Park. In 1870, the state legislature passed a law stating that the lands would be held in trust for a park forever.
For many years, there was little development of “city park” as it was named back then. A high school, which later became San Diego High School, was built and several gardens were created by various private groups. In 1892, local Kate Sessions leased 36 acres for a nursery. In exchange for using the land, she agreed that the nursery would be open to the public and that she would donate hundreds of trees and plants to the city every year for its beautification. Kate, who would become known as “the mother of Balboa Park,” is credited with bringing in many of the different varieties of native and exotic plants to the park, and many of her original trees are alive and visible today.
In 1977, Balboa Park, and historic Exposition buildings from 1915 and 1935, were declared a National Historic Landmark and National Historic Landmark District, and placed on the National Register Of Historic Places. Today, the park is the center for arts and culture in San Diego and is recognized by the state of California as one of its 14 cultural districts.