Palisades Plaza in Balboa Park is intended as a public gathering place the way it was designed when it first opened in 1935. Photo via Twitter

After months of construction, city leaders unveiled the Palisades Plaza in Balboa Park Wednesday, opening the former dilapidated parking lot as a public gathering place the way it was designed when it first opened in 1935 for the California Pacific International Exposition.

The project replaces the South Palisades parking lot — transforming it into a pedestrian plaza near the San Diego Air & Space Museum, San Diego Automotive Museum, the Mid-City Gymnasium and the Comic-Con Museum.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer was joined Wednesday by Assemblyman and Mayor-elect Todd Gloria and City Councilman and Assemblyman-elect Chris Ward for the grand opening.

“By restoring the Palisades to its original grandeur, we’ve turned a crumbling parking lot in Balboa Park into the next great public space — complete with new amenities, seating and landscaping — for San Diegans to enjoy at a time when they need it most,” Faulconer said.

“The investments we’ve made to improve parks across the city have resulted in more outdoor recreational opportunities available today than ever before for San Diegans. The transformation of Palisades Plaza and other upgrades in Balboa Park will help preserve the crown jewel of our parks system well into the future,” he said.

Construction for the project kicked off in April 2020 and was completed by the city’s Transportation and Stormwater and Parks and Recreation departments.

Changes to the area include the removal of asphalt from South Palisades to create a public plaza, an upgrade to the San Diego tram stop, newly planted trees, enhanced landscaping and installation of turf lawn areas, the repaving of the North Palisades parking lot and upgrading sidewalk and pedestrian curb ramps to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

“The first phase of the restoration of the Pan-American Plaza carries out a decades-long dream to return this key space in Balboa Park to pedestrian use,” said Roger Showley, president of the Balboa Park Committee of the 100.

“We hope this leads to the second phase: restoration of the north half of the plaza to pedestrian-only use. Meantime we hope to launch a fundraising campaign to recreate the fabulous Firestone Singing Fountains that entertained millions of visitors in this space during the 1935-36 California Pacific International Exposition,” Showley said.

The funding for the project is part of a larger $9.3 million investment that Faulconer directed toward critical infrastructure needs in Balboa Park last year.

Other park upgrades include:

  • Botanical Building restoration.
  • Morton Bay Fig Tree observation platform installation.
  • New International Cottages construction.
  • Mingei Museum roof replacement and facade improvements.
  • Bea Evenson Fountain plumbing repair.
  • And Bud Kearns Memorial Pool renovation.

— City News Service