Restoration work on the House of Hospitality’s historic courtyard planters has just been completed and the results are exquisite. The multi-faceted project, which includes colorful drought-resistant plants, a water-saving irrigation system, and new lighting features, was coordinated by the Balboa Park Conservancy in conjunction with the City of San Diego Park and Recreation Department, with generous contributions provided by Conny Jamison and the Cohn Restaurant Group.

A Brief History

The House of Hospitality courtyard is one of the most visited spaces in all of San Diego. More than 500,000 visitors pass through the building’s Visitors Center each year, and tens of thousands more dine at the Prado Restaurant; attend meetings, weddings, and special events; use the public restrooms; and enjoy a shady spot to rest and plan their day’s visit.

The House of Hospitality was originally built as an exposition building for the 1915 Panama California Exposition. Renowned architect Richard Requa reconfigured the building as the expo’s primary visitors center for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition, creating a sunny, Spanish Colonial courtyard surrounded by a colonnade. When the House of Hospitality was recreated from the ground up in 1997, the courtyard garden consisted of four main planters in each corner, featuring large palms, boxwood hedges, and other ornamentals. The ceramic pots hanging on the upper railing were recreated from historic documentation.

After 20 years, the now mature and over-mature plants needed to be refreshed in a way that ensures a sustainable future for this historic landmark garden.

Sustainable Historic Restoration

The Conservancy, which manages the House of Hospitality, partnered with Urban Corps of San Diego to replant the four planters and install a new state-of-the-art irrigation system. Designed to provide proper sustainable watering of the garden, the new system is an in-line laser drip irrigation with 80–90 percent efficiency.

A planting plan was thoughtfully developed to incorporate a variety of attractive plants specifically suited for this location and that aligned with the Department of Interior’s standards for historic landscapes. New hybrid plant species were chosen for easy maintenance and low water requirements. Among the varieties in the new plant palette are the Kniphofia uvaria (“Alcazar”), Liriope muscari (“Big Blue”), Clivia miniata (“San Marcos Yellow”), and Buxus microphylla japonica (“Morris Midget”). By requiring less pruning and hedging, many of these plants will reduce long-term maintenance needs while also reducing fertilization inputs into the environment and the overall maintenance carbon footprint.

The Cohn Restaurant Group, which operates the Prado Restaurant, helped complete the sustainable restoration plan by generously donating a new landscape lighting system that uses the latest LED high-efficiency bulbs to minimize energy consumption. The lighting is designed to animate the new courtyard garden with color and add vitality for evening visitors.

On a Mission

Adapting historic landscapes to current growing conditions, while retaining original design intent, is a critical aspect of the Conservancy’s mission to both preserve and enhance the park. The House of Hospitality garden courtyard project is an essential phase of a planned replanting of other landscaping around the House of Hospitality and the park’s Central Mesa to conform to evolving sustainability needs. The project is intended to serve as a model for restoration of other historic landscapes and public gardens, both in the park and the region as a whole.

The House of Hospitality historic garden revitalization is made possible by the Balboa Park Conservancy, with generous support from Conny Jamison and the Cohn Restaurant Group. This project is being completed in partnership with Urban Corps San Diego and the City of San Diego’s Department of Park and Recreation.