idea: reclaim balboa 2015


Over the past 12 months I have invited a solid group of local designers into the DBRDS office for random Friday afternoon design dialogs. For full disclosure, I often entice this group of very busy designers into the our studio by offering a ‘tasting of sorts’, sometimes with beer, other times with whiskey, & so on. Either way, my intent is always to spark an interesting dialog for ideas in San Diego. What generally happens is we all get fired up & positive about the City & set about with sketch paper & markers, exploring design challenges one by one. The Friday afternoon group of dialoguers evolved each session, but the heart of this group were Ivan & myself, Landscape Architect David McCullough, Urban Planner & Dialog Provocateur Howard Blackson (if you dont already know Howard, watch this video to get a feel for how passionate this guy is about San Diego) & recent graduate & recent addition to the DBRDS team, Craig Howard.


This most recent design challenge was stemmed by a running club that Ivan was apart of which used the old Balboa Stadium running track once a week. Following our East Village Stadium concept, Ivan could not believe that this classical horseshoe stadium was hidden on the edge of downtown & promptly took me up there to see it. As we stood on the top edge of the San Diego High School car park to the south rim of the once beautiful seating layout, we were simultaneously disheartened by what once was & how poorly it has been demolished & neglected over the years. We were also inspired by the spectacular view of Coronado Bridge with Mexico beyond. Turning around to face North we could appreciate closeness of Balboa Park across the freeway with California Tower off in the distance. Fueled by this visit, Ivan set out to expand our existing downtown CAD drawing to stretch from the bay all they way up to El Prado dropping in building outlines through the City & the Park as he developed it. All of this lead us to lay out our site plan on our first little Friday afternoon discussion to show the team how amazingly, the seemingly forgotten Balboa Stadium lines up perfectly with the Plaza de Panama! Surely this no coincidence & this was something really worth exploring as a master planning exercise.


All that being said, we have had a lot of fun developing an idea that we think has some merit. An idea based on the notion of ‘building towards cultural and social value always equates to economic value.’ An idea that literally proposes to bridge the gap between Balboa Park & downtown created by Interstate 5. There has been a lot of great ideas & proposals on way’s to reconcile elements of Balboa – from the 1960’s Bartholomew Plan, Vicki Estrada’s 1980’s evolution of this with an emphasis again to remove cars, to the more recent Dr. Irwin Jacob’s ‘Centennial Bridge’ idea, to PUBLIC Architecture’s James Brown’s proposal to ‘Take back the Freeways‘ (as presented at TEDxAMERICA’S FINEST CITY at the Newschool of Architecture & Design) & remove a section of Interstate 5 all together. These are all great ideas, these are all worth talking about & most importantly these are all ideas by people who care about this City & want to see San Diego live up to its tagline of America’s Finest City!

This week our idea expanded beyond our studio sessions in this article by John Lamb of City Beat San Diego. You can read it here:

Our idea was also picked up very quickly by William Adams, Creator of local design blog UrbDeZine. We hope it sparks discussion & we hope it gets people thinking.







  1. Steven D. Dobbs

    Wow! And, I noticed in one of the renderings you included your schematic for a new Chargers stadium at Tailgate Park. What a vision. I wonder if we could lure Irwin Jacobs back to finance it?

    Great work guys, and thanks for your hard work!

    Genuinely, Steven D. Dobbs

    Date: Fri, 12 Apr 2013 15:29:51 +0000 To:

  2. William Hamilton

    This looks like a grand, inspirational idea worthy of vigorous discussion by those of good faith, but I would imagine that some of the gratuitous gloating directed toward Mr. Jacobs following his Plaza de Panama proposal defeat, much of which done by people who should know better (I’m looking at you Bruce Coons), may have soured his desire to fund anything in the future regarding Balboa Park. He put in several years of his life and over $8 million of his own money to make it a reality (in addition to the cost of actually building it). That can’t help but leave a mark. Of course for some, this still makes him a guy who “gives up to easily.” (I’m looking at you Howard Blackson.)

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