A Century of
Built in 1914, the Botanical Building and Gardens lives on as one of the park’s most beloved destinations—and one of San Diego’s most important assets. Envisioned by Alfred D. Robinson, designed by Carleton Winslow, and brought to life by architect Bertram Goodhue, the resulting building was as enchanting as dreamed. Designed to be open to the air, it showcased San Diego’s extraordinary climate to the millions of visitors attending the 1915 Exposition. Its global collection of plants proved the region’s horticultural possibilities.
- 1913EARLY CONSTRUCTION
The Botanical Building and Gardens was completed by July 1914.
- 1915PANAMA-CALIFORNIA EXPOSITION
The completed building and exterior gardens opened in 1915.
A decade later the pergola continued to hold stately prominence over the Botanical Gardens.
- 1935CALIFORNIA PACIFIC INTERNATIONAL EXPOSITION
As one of the few permanent structures from the previous 1915 expo, the Botanical Building continued to feature horticultural beauty.
- 1959POST RENOVATION
Significant renovations removed front arcades, mullioned windows, and a glass greenhouse.
- 2019$8.2 MILLION GRANT AWARDED
State Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and State Assemblymember Todd Gloria (now Mayor of San Diego) championed a state grant to restore the building.
- 2022RESTORATION BEGINS
The botanical collection carefully relocated to the Parks and Recreation nursery as construction begins.
- 2023ON OUR WAY
Structural reconstruction is underway.
- 2024COMING SOON
The exterior landscapes will be renewed, and the historic pergola will be rebuilt. Led by Forever Balboa Park.
- 2025& BEYOND
Forever Balboa Park will lead volunteer garden stewardship and nature learning for all.
An Icon in Need of Repair
A century of weather and wear has caused the Botanical Building and Gardens to deteriorate. It has lost its gracious arcades, arching Palladian windows, romantic pergola, and exterior planting beds. Termite damage and rust have threatened the structure’s longevity, while cracked walls and faded paint have dulled its appeal. A lack of amenities, poor lighting, and antiquated irrigation have posed limitations.
Forever Balboa Park, with the City of San Diego, has envisioned a revitalized Botanical Building and Gardens, and the project is underway. Philanthropy will engage the greater San Diego community and bring this project to fruition.
Plans for the Restored Botanical Building and Gardens
The Botanical Building and Gardens restoration project is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore and enhance an extraordinary public space. The revitalization project includes:
Connecting Our Community to Nature
San Diego is on a path to urban environmental sustainability, leveraging local talent and ingenuity. In order to meet our climate goals, bolstering the public’s understanding of biodiversity and sustainability solutions is critical. A revitalized Botanical Building and Gardens will create community spaces where visitors can participate in educational programming. We’re on a mission to inspire new generations of plant enthusiasts and nature lovers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Phase 1: Led by the City of San Diego
- Includes the full restoration of the building to its original 1915 design, with current building code enhancements, rebuilding the historic arcades with Palladian windows, and restoring the grand entrances, thereby opening the inside space to the surrounding gardens as intended.
- State-of-the-art lighting and new irrigation systems will be added.
- A north annex to honor the glasshouse that once stood in that location will be added, as well as a north lobby entrance.
Phase 2: The work Forever Balboa Park will undertake to help restore and revitalize the Botanical Building and Gardens.
- Restored and enhanced planting and irrigation in the exterior gardens, and a portion of exterior hardscaping, specifically walkways.
- The pergola that originally stood on the west lawn near The San Diego Museum of Art will be reconstructed.
- Restoration of the two exterior fountains.
- All donor acknowledgements for the project.
- Forever Balboa Park is also raising funds for public engagement programming and for its volunteer garden stewards.
- The Botanical Building was closed to the public for construction preparation in January 2022.
- Phase I, which includes the interior and exterior restoration and renovation of the Botanical Building structure, is anticipated for completion in 2024. When Phase I is done and the public is invited back to the facility, the building restoration (structural) and the interior work will be complete. Exterior work may be ongoing at that time.
- Phase 2, which is spearheaded by Forever Balboa Park, will restore and enhance the exterior gardens, rebuild the historic pergola, repair exterior walkways, and restore the two exterior fountains, and is scheduled for completion in 2024. Forever Balboa Park is raising private philanthropic funding to hire a design consultant and a construction contractor, and will oversee the Phase 2 work.
- San Diego is on a path to urban environmental sustainability, leveraging local talent and ingenuity. In order to meet our climate goals, bolstering the public’s understanding of biodiversity and sustainability solutions is critical. A revitalized Botanical Building and Gardens will create community spaces where visitors can participate in educational programming. We’re on a mission to inspire new generations of plant enthusiasts and nature lovers.
- Given the building’s age, many parts of the structure are damaged or in a dilapidated condition, including severe rust and corrosion of its steel structural elements, wood rot and termite damage on the structural girts, and deterioration of the redwood lath.
- The new walkway system will better support larger crowds and access for all visitors including those with disabilities.
- The irrigation system is faulty and not water efficient by today’s standards, and the plumbing and lighting systems are out-of-date and in need of repair.
- The support areas for the building are inadequate for appropriate care and maintenance of the botanical collection.
- Much of the authentic historic integrity of the Botanical Building and its contextual landscape is missing or damaged.
- Forever Balboa Park raised more than $600,000 during the planning phase, which paid for the conceptual plans,renderings, and 60% construction documents for the project, which were donated to the City of San Diego.
- The State of California granted the project $8.26 million for Phase 1, thanks to the advocacy from Forever Balboa Park and the persistent leadership of Senate President Pro Tempore Senator Atkins.
- The National Park Service “Save America’s Treasures” program awarded Forever Balboa Park $257,000 in support of Phase 2.
- The City of San Diego committed to more than $13 million in infrastructure funding.
- Forever Balboa Park is leading a $10 million capital campaign for Phase 2 which will fund design, planting and irrigation work in the exterior gardens, walkway upgrades, the reconstruction of the historic pergola, and restoration of exterior fountains. Forever Balboa Park’s campaign will also fund volunteer garden stewards and public engagement programming. For information on how to contribute to this campaign, please call 619.331.1991 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
No, the funds raised privately will remain with Forever Balboa Park and fund its portion of work on the project, separately contracted from the City’s endeavor. Forever Balboa Park is a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, Tax ID #33-0849518. If you’d like to learn more about contributing to the campaign, please call 619.331.1991 or email email@example.com.
- Phase 1, which includes the restoration and renovation of the Botanical Building, is scheduled for completion in 2024.
- Phase 2, which is spearheaded by Forever Balboa Park, is scheduled for 2024.
The City is committed to maintaining the facility as a botanical showcase at no cost to visitors.
- The City Parks and Recreation Department is the operator of the Botanical Building and Gardens. Forever Balboa Park supports the City’s commitment to maintaining the facility as a botanical showcase at no cost to visitors.
No, The Botanical Building and Gardens is a City of San Diego resource. As the City’s nonprofit partner on this project, Forever Balboa Park supports the city’s efforts to maintain and operate it, keeping it free and accessible to all.
- The new interior configuration more closely represents the building’s original 1915 design. The existing planting/display area is approximately 7,722 square feet. The proposed display area will be approximately 6,211 square feet.
- The restoration will increase public accessibility and usage with a flexible botanical display area, new multi-purpose rooms and wider pathways for improved circulation.
- The restoration of the Botanical Building is dedicated to the growth, care, observation, and education of plants and horticulture within the Balboa Park National Historic District.
- The flexible square footage planned provides opportunities for rotating plant displays, horticultural education, visitor information, and increased usage.
- The City of San Diego is committed to maintaining the Botanical Building and Gardens at best-in-class levels as it seeks to do for all Balboa Park.
- Forever Balboa Park has committed to supplementing the city’s garden maintenance program by deploying its volunteer garden stewards at the site. Forever Balboa Park’s garden stewards currently maintain and assist Parks and Recreation staff in the majority of the park’s gardens.
- If you would like to volunteer as a Forever Balboa Park volunteer as a garden steward or tree steward, submit an interest form at ForeverBalboaPark.org/volunteer.
- This website is regularly updated with new information.
- You can also visit the City’s project website page sandiego.gov/cip/projectinfo/botanicalbuilding.
- The City provides regular updates through the Balboa Park Committee.
- Forever Balboa Park provides short updates in its monthly newsletter. Sign up here. Or, sign up to be a member, and support Forever Balboa Park’s work to enhance all 1,200 acres of Balboa Park. Sign up to be a Champion.
A Model Public Private Partnership
Through an unprecedented infusion of federal, state, local, and private funding, the Botanical Building and Gardens is being restored to its former glory. Forever Balboa Park is participating as a private partner of the City of San Diego.
Forever Balboa Park raised funds for, prepared the conceptual plans, and donated the construction documents for the building restoration to the City.
The restoration of the building is funded through a California State Award and City of San Diego funding (referred to as Phase 1).
Forever Balboa Park is raising private funds for the design and installation of the exterior gardens, the restoration of the historic pergola, renovation of the two exterior fountains and walkways, volunteer opportunities, and public engagement programming (referred to as Phase 2).
Elizabeth C. Babcock, PhD
President & CEO,
Forever Balboa Park