50th anniversary of Diane Powers' Bazaar del Mundo

Wearing silver sombreros as earrings, Diane Powers retold the Bazaar del Mundo origin story Thursday night as her relocated nest of shops and restaurants celebrated its 50th anniversary.

The 79-year-old San Diego business icon recounted how financier Richard Silberman showed her an invitation to run concessions at Old Town San Diego State Historic Park.

She traveled to Sacramento, expecting to have 20-30 minutes to lay out her vision for a collection of Mexican-inspired artisan shops and colorful restaurants.

In a “big conference room,” she told a standing audience of 100, Powers was worried as her presentation ran overtime.

“They said no — keep on going,” she recalled state park officials saying. “Don’t worry — you’re the only bidder.”

And thus began what Mayor Todd Gloria called a “quintessential San Diego institution,” launched on Nov. 4, 1971.

Powers turned a run-down motel into a landmark that helped make Old Town the best-attended state park. And all by what former county Supervisor Ron Roberts described as the best design student at San Diego State College. (Her degree was interior design.)

Roberts, a former architect, called Bazaar del Mundo “a transformative project” that eventually had to relocate nearby. “Make something good happen here, and she did.”

However, his three daughters had the most affection for a Powers restaurant — rated “very high on their list.” It was called ¡Hamburguesa! Its quarter-century run ended in 1995.

(Powers said she used to design Jack In The Box restaurants for San Diego-based Foodmaker, so no wonder.)

Diane Powers, owner and operator of Bazaar del Mundo speaks of its history. Photo by Chris Stone

Before cutting three sheet cakes and handing out colorful cupcakes, Powers thanked the many staffers past and present attending — along with vendors and customers.

One longtime sales associate, Byron Campbell, helped pass out 50th anniversary buttons and greet guests. (Festivities continue through Sunday.)

A retired Postal Service worker in his 60s, Campbell lives only miles away and said he interned at the shops in the mid-1990s after taking design classes.

“Interned and never left,” said the former Los Angeles County resident. “Better put together than Olvera Street.”

“I like the whole look and ambience of types of things,” said Campbell, whose home is “accessorized” with Spanish style items from Bazaar del Mundo.” Also liked: Mexican food and margaritas.

At the Sacramento meeting a half-century ago, Powers was asked if she could get the project going in two months.

“Yes, we did,” she said Thursday shortly after nightfall from a small stage overlooking tables jampacked with all manner of arts and crafts.

Though she lost the state parks’ concession in 2005 — to a New York company that specialized in selling beer and hot dogs at ballparks, later to fumble and pass the operation off to a Chula Vistan — the thriving Bazaar del Mundo just outside the state park keeps the legend alive.

Did she think her project would last 50 years?

Powers had no inkling of its longevity.

“Even when it started, I was so wrapped up in creating and trying to figure out how it was going to all come together,” she told Times of San Diego. “I was kind of young and innocent. I didn’t think of business failures or anything like that. I just plowed ahead.”

Did she think she’d be here for the 75th anniversary?

“Yeah,” she said. “Why not?”

And the 100th?

“I would hope so,” Powers said with a laugh. “I can’t promise. But I’ll work for it.”