History of the Indian Arts / House of Charm Building

by Richard Amero

Exposition officials called it the Mining Building in January 1913. The intention was to dig a mine from the floor of the Building to the edge of Cabrillo Canyon to show the wealth of mineral resources in San Diego. Someone realized the idea was ridiculous as there are no known mineral resources in Balboa Park. A drawing of the Building in the January 1, 1913 edition of the San Diego Union depicted the east facade as finally constructed. Still trying to find a name, officials decided on the name Science Building in June 1913, which they changed to Science and Education in October. While the provisionally named Science and Education Building was being constructed, an Arts and Crafts building was going up on the north side of El Prado. By January 1914, authorities switched the Arts and Crafts designation to the Building on the south side of El Prado and the Science and Education designation to the building on the north side. Matters did not rest there as Dr. Edgar L. Hewett. Director of Exhibits, changed the name of the Arts and Crafts Building to Indian Arts Building, shortly before the Panama-California Exposition midnight December 31, 1914 opening. (Editor’s note: to minimize confusion from name changes, the Indian Arts / House of Charm Building will be capitalized as the Building, when not otherwise specified.)

The Indian Arts Building cost $40,113 to build. It was designed by Carleton Winslow in 1912 with help from supervising architect Bertram Goodhue. Frank P. Allen, Jr. the Exposition’s Director of Works, supervised the construction and H. L. Schmohl fashioned exterior ornament, after drawings supplied by Winslow.

The most memorable side of the Indian Arts Building was the east side facing the Plaza de Panama. The projecting facade, which covered an arcade at the lower level, was taken from the facade of the Sanctuary of Guadalupe in Guadalajara, Mexico. This church flanks the Plaza de Hidalgo on the north. Details did not come from a physical inspection of the church in Guadalajara, but from a photograph in Sylvester Baxter’s book Spanish-Colonial Architecture in Mexico. (Baxter. Vol. 10, plate 137) The San Diego Union claimed the facade was meant to recall the architecture of the California missions and that the Sanctuary of Guadalupe was the model and inspiration for this architecture. This ascription and the further claim that the Sanctuary of Guadalupe was a Franciscan church were false, but they made good copy.

There is a disproportion between the east facade of the Indian Arts Building and other facades on the Plaza de Panama and on El Prado. The massive combinations of simulated buttresses, rusticated moldings and tiered belfries holding imitation bells does not correspond with exuberant Baroque and Churrigueresque detail elsewhere on the grounds. In an attempt to interrupt the symmetry, a tall right bell gable has three openings while a smaller bell gable on the left has two. The facade has a grim aspect reminiscent of fortress churches in sixteenth century Mexico, even though its model, the Sanctuary of Guadalupe, was built either in the seventeenth or eighteenth century (sources differ). Critics do not consider the Mexican parochial church a good example of the fascinating Spanish-Colonial architecture of Guadalajara and they rarely include photographs of it in their books. Manuel Toussaint, premier architectural critic of the Spanish-Colonial period, wrote: “It does not present much interest. Baxter should have cited the Temple of Cachupinas instead, but he either did not know about it or did not cite it even if he did.” (Sylvester Baxter, La arquitectura hispano colonial en Mexico, introducion por Manuel Toussaint, Mexico, DF, 1934; Amero translation).

Winslow derived the ornament from reliefs on Mexican churches and monasteries. Angels flanking a saint were, in turn, flanked by nude figures with their arms in the air. Similar nude figures are present on arcades in the patio of the Monastery of San Agustin in Queretaro, Mexico (Baxter, Vol. 8, plate 103). The facade was on the dark side of the Building. Foliage that grew in front hid its design. It echoed a similar treatment on a south entrance to the Science and Education Building, on the other side of El Prado. Granted that details were cast in staff rather than carved in stone, they are more intriguing than most of the sculptural detail that Schmohl’s crew of artisans shaped and cast for the temporary Exposition buildings.

A third entrance on the west side of the Building was set between engaged pilasters and topped by an arch. Two niches flanked a recessed window above the entrance. Rows of simple moldings surrounded the entrance and niches. The most interesting feature on this side was a square tower to the left of the west entrance. Finials and a dome covered with blue and yellow tiles topped the tower’s upper stage, whose mass was broken by four slender arched openings. In contour and in color, the polychrome dome balanced another dome similarly decorated on the nearby Science and Education Building. Being in minor keys, both towers and domes complemented the majestic 200-foot tower and sparkling dome of the California Building, a short distance to the west.

Winslow used the tower on the Church of Santa Catarina in Puebla, Mexico (Baxter, Vol. 6, plate 68) as his model for the tower on the Indian Arts Building. The Santa Catarina tower is more elaborate in outline and is covered from base to top with the Mudejar tiles for which Puebla is famous. Since the west side acted a backdrop to the Montezuma Gardens, its restrained decoration was calculated so as not to overpower the beauties of the garden.

The south side consisted of blank stucco walls divided into two sections. The section to the east projected forward. It had three clean-cut, deeply set windows at the top level. A balcony supported by concrete brackets, whose architrave rose above the cornice, separated east and west sections. The west section was windowless at the top level. Photographs do not show original arrangements on lower and basement levels. There are, however, windows present on the lower levels of east and west sections today, under which are irregularly spaced vents. The vents may have been added during World War II to improve air circulation for nurses inside the Building. Though beyond the 1935 period for reconstruction, they were reproduced during the 1996 reconstruction. Doing duty as a cornice, a narrow coping runs along the top edge of east and west sections, as well as around the tops of other unornamented sections.

Dr. Hewett named the Building the Indian Arts Building for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition as it contained artifacts sent by the Smithsonian Institute and the School of American Archaeology showing the customs and arts and crafts of native Americans. On the inside walls at the south end of the Building, Gerald Cassidy painted scenes from the Petrified Forest of Arizona, the rock at Acoma, the Enchanted Mesa, and the cliff dwellings at Pajarito. The paintings supplied atmosphere for displays of pottery in cases and of life-size and miniature models of Indians from the plains and the southwest and from Central and South America. Indian women from Santa Fe wove blankets and baskets and made pottery. Photographs by Roland Reed, showing phases of Indian life, were also shown.

The collections were to remain in San Diego as the nucleus of a future museum. Dr. Hewett, a friend of Indians, hoped the exhibits would show how the simple, diligent, honest and highly moral Indians of the southwest suffered from their contact with Europeans.

The Daughters of the American Revolution occupied a balcony at the east end of the Building. Here, in an eighteenth-century American Colonial setting, they served tea and received visitors.

Officials renamed the Indian Arts Building the Russia and Brazil Building for the 1916 run of the Panama-California International Exposition. It is not clear what happened to the Indian Arts exhibits, though some of them were undoubtedly transferred to the Science and Education Building on the north side of El Prado. Dr. Eugenio Dahne assembled the Brazilian exhibit at his own expense. In 1915, the exhibit was displayed in the Commerce and Industries Building. The Brazilian government sent along additional displays in 1916, which required more room. Space given to the augmented display in the Russia and Brazil Building came to 3,300 square feet. The Theodore “Roosevelt Cabin” contained skins, stuffed animals and birds and hunters’ trophies. Other displays showed how rubber and coffee were produced. Cabinets made from hardwood from the Amazon valley exhibited their distinctive grains and coloring. Attendants served pure unblended coffee from Sao Paulo free to visitors.

The Russian exhibits came from the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Peasants living in small villages fabricated the articles during the long Russian winters when they could not till the soil.. They consisted of utensils, laces, toys, jewelry, carved furniture, carpets, rugs, pottery, and religious icons. Paintings on the walls illustrated stories from Russian folklore. A painting on wood by an anonymous Russian peasant of the Russian novelist and philanthropist Leo Tolstoy, wearing peasant clothes and with bare feet, was the most realistic and striking of the paintings on display.A. Khodjayan, who was in charge of the exhibit, said that its purpose was to show Americans that his country was not wild and half-civilized and that “in many fields of endeavor even America might well envy some of her accomplishments.”

In 1917, the Science and Education Building became the Indian Arts Building and the Russia and Brazil Building (original Indian Arts Building) became the Science of Man Building. Specimens, casts, statues, photographs and skeletons illustrating the development of the human species were moved into the Building. The changing of names gave rise to endless confusion as newspaper reporters, park commissioners, and even members of the San Diego Museum Association continued to refer to the buildings by their old names.

The San Diego Museum, now headed by Dr. Hewett, was determined to keep both the Indian Arts and Science of Man Buildings. To facilitate their long-term use, it was planned to put concrete foundations at the base of the buildings, remove the imitation roof tiles and staff decoration, and replace the electric wiring with wiring in conduit. The use of Exposition buildings east of the Plaza de Panama by the U.S. Navy as a training center during World War I did not severely affect the operation of the San Diego Museum. The Museum Association opened a branch library in the Building for the use of sailors and conducted classes in mathematics, French, hygiene and the care of the sick.

In February 1919, the Museum Association reported that Miss Edna Scofield, a sculptor, had been given studio space in the Building.

The Building was repaired in 1922 after a restoration fund of $105,000 had been raised by public subscription. Roofs and skylights were repaired, walls plastered, and ornament refurbished. These repairs were not as extensive as those Dr. Hewett had contemplated and the Building continued to be a firetrap.

At the behest of the San Diego Park Commission, the San Diego Museum vacated the Indian Arts Building on March 1, 1922. Here the record gets murky as the Park Commission persisted in referring to the Building by its former name. Park Commission minutes of January 26, 1923 mention a refreshment stand in Building No. 5, the numerical designation of the Building.

The San Diego Union on July 29, 1923 indicated that the Building was still being used by the San Diego Museum. The Joseph Jessop archery collection, formerly in the Sacramento Valley Building, had been moved into the Building.

In May and June 1925, the San Diego Museum reinstalled exhibits from the Building in the south half of the fireproof California Quadrangle. The Joseph Jessop archery collection was installed in the east wing, second floor of the Quadrangle, at the same time. Space had been made available by the removal of the Fine Arts collection to the new Fine Arts Gallery, built in 1925 to replace the 1915 Sacramento Valley Building.

For several years after the removal of Science of Man exhibits, flower shows were held in the vacated building, now referred to in the San Diego Union as “the building in the southwest corner of the main plaza in Balboa Park.” The Park Department continued to operate a refreshment stand in the building.

After Oscar G. Knecht, assistant city building inspector, in 1933, approved wrecking the Building and other temporary Exposition buildings, a second campaign to secure funds to shore up the buildings resulted in a fund of $110, 290 being raised from the public and from government relief agencies, with $11,470 of this sum allocated to patching up the Building. Architect Richard Requa had estimated that it would cost $9,210 to repair the Building, which was $2,260 short of the actual cost.

Unlike the House of Hospitality on the southeast side of the Plaza de Panama, little was done to modify the Building to get it in shape for the 1935 California-Pacific International Exposition. Architect Richard Requa put numerous flags on standards, plants, booths, and lighting fixtures on the outside of all 1915 Exposition buildings, thus changing the 1915 appearance of El Prado, which was supposed to look like an avenue in a Spanish-Colonial city and not an amusement street in a sidewalk carnival.

In 1935, the Building was renamed the House of Charm by which it is generally recognized today. The name was chosen as the building housed concessions devoted to women’s clothing, jewelry, hosiery, shoes, cosmetics and perfumes. These articles plus articles in a drug store in the Building were offered for sale. Models in the Building paraded about, adorned in the latest fashions. A lunch counter in the drug store supplemented refreshment stands in the Cafe of the World and the Palisades Cafe.

The House of Charm could not have been a smash hit as it was replaced in 1936 with a display of gems and artifacts from all over the world in what was called the Palace of International Arts. This too appears to have been a commercial operation, though some of the items were so valuable they were presumably presented only as exhibits. Among the articles were jewels from India, rugs from Persia, linens from Ireland, silks from Japan and China, and pottery and blankets from the Indian pueblos of the southwest. Exhibits were housed in a Chinese pagoda, a replica of the Taj Mahal, a Mexican patio, a replica of an Indian Trading post, and a Turkish lounge where coffee and pastries were served. A door was cut in the arcade facing the Plaza del Pacifico at this time.

In October 1936, San Diego City Manager R. W. Flack announced that a corner of the 1935 House of Charm would be used as a novelty shop selling films and popcorn and dispensing counter lunches. The City Visual Education Bureau and a similar County bureau would occupy the rest of the Building.

It is not clear if Flack’s suggestions were followed. At any rate, a Balboa Park guide issued in 1941, claimed that annual flower shows were still being held in the Building.

Little is known about the use to which the Building was put during the U.S. Naval Hospital’s occupancy of El Prado during World War II. A U.S. Naval Hospital newspaper called Drydock indicated only that Building No. 223 (the House of Charm) was used as a nurses’ quarters.

On July 24, 1947, City Manager Fred A. Rhodes announced that Fire Inspector Al Penrose and Building Inspector Oscar Knecht had condemned the House of Charm and six other buildings as fire hazards to themselves and to exhibits in the California Building, the Fine Arts Gallery, and the Natural History Museum. This in spite of the fact that the U.S. Navy had paid more than $800,000 to San Diego to make good damages done to the buildings. This money had been used to rehabilitate the Museums of Man and Natural History, and the California State, Federal and Hollywood Buildings. As Richard Requa had done in 1933, Paul A. Wenhe, a structural engineer, and W. Templeton Johnson, an architect, said the condemned buildings could be repaired at a reasonable cost. Cory and Longworth, Inc., a construction company, got the contract to rehabilitate the House of Charm, the Food and Beverage Building, and the Electric Building.

In the 1950’s the House of Charm functioned as a venue for flower and model train shows. Model railroad buffs secured a section of their own on the west side. The San Diego Men’s Art Club, forerunner of the San Diego Art Institute, opened a gallery in the east half of the Building on June 5, 1954. The Breitbard Athletic Foundation asked for and received permission to set up a Hall of Fame for San Diego sports champions in 1957. The same year a Citizens Study Committee recommended that the House of Charm be demolished.

Saying that the current use of the Bulding was in violation of the Building Code, the Harland Bartholomew planners in 1960 proposed removing the Building within 12 months and replacing it with a Sports Museum. The San Diego Art Institute and the Model Railroad Club would be relocated to the Spanish Village.

Ignoring recommendations by the Bartholomew planners, the Hall of Champions remodeled its section of the House of Charm in July 1960.

A storm sometime in the 1970’s blew down the west tower. (Another newspaper account has it that the tower was removed in 1955.) Otherwise, the situation remained static. Finally, in November 1978, Fire Chief Dee Rogers said the San Diego Art Institute should be closed because it was not in compliance with fire codes. Upon being ordered to evacuate, the Art Institute moved to a downtown Community Arts Gallery and the Model Railroad Club temporarily closed its operation. The adjacent Hall of Champions was not affected because its facilities had been upgraded and separated from the remainder of the Building. The Fire Department had ordered the inspection after fires in February and March, 1978, had destroyed the Old Globe Theater and the Electric Building.

Corroborating the findings of the Fire Department, John Costa, structural engineer for the city, in December 1978, claimed the House of Charm was in danger of collapse because of rotting columns, weak foundations and sagging beams.

The City installed a sprinkler system in the House of Charm in 1979, following which the San Diego Art Institute, braving the possibility of collapse, moved back into the Building.

Anticipating that the House of Charm would be rebuilt, Craig Noel, director of the Old Globe Theater, got architect Robert Mosher to draw plans for a theater in the House of Charm. Sensing a plot to oust them from the House of Charm, the San Diego Art Institute issued a strong protest.

Talk of rebuilding the House of Charm continued throughout the 1980’s as candidates vied with one another for space in the Building. Proposals were advanced by a Textile Arts and Conservation Center, a Navy Museum, a Museum for the Performing Arts, a Center for Photographic Arts, Mex Art International, San Diego Model Railroad, San Diego Art Institute, Hall of Champions, San Diego Opera, San Diego Civic Light Opera, San Diego Association of Archaeologists. Theater Organ Society of San Diego, World Beat Productions, Children’s Museum, and Mingei International Museum. Applicants for tenancy were expected to raise funds to reconstruct the Building. Mayor Maureen O’Connor was in favor of the Children’s Museum. None of the competing organizations could put together a financial package to pay the cost of rebuilding.

City of San Diego priorities called for the rebuilding of the Old Globe Theater and Electric Building and the conversion of the Ford Building into an Aerospace Museum and Aerospace Hall of Fame for displaced occupants of the Electric Building. Fund-raising drives and government grants provided the money to achieve these goals. The Hall of Champions and the Model Railroad Club moved into the rebuilt Electric Building (renamed the Casa de Balboa) in 1983. After about six years in the new Building, directors of the Hall of Champions asked for a return to a rebuilt Hall of Charm as they needed room to grow, a condition that affects every tenant in Balboa Park. If private money could not be obtained, rebuilding the Houses of Hospitality and Charm would have to wait for the City to find another source of funding. In 1987, voters defeated a revenue bond issue for Mission Bay and Balboa Park that included rebuilding the House of Charm among its proposals.

In 1989, the City decided to spend $5 million to tear down and replace the House of Charm. The figure augmented to $10.6 million in 1993 and $11.5 million in 1994. Bonds sold to finance the reconstruction were backed by a 1 percent hotel-motel room tax. Groups picked by the City would pay for interior changes.

A Balboa Park Master Plan, prepared by Estrada Land Planning in 1989, called for the reconstruction of the Houses of Charm and Hospitality at an estimated combined cost of $16.5 million. While generally approving the concept of historical reconstruction, the plan did not specify 1935 as the target date for reconversion.

Commenting on the Central Mesa Precise Plan, prepared by Estrada land Planning in 1991, Paul Alley, architectural historian for the National Park Service, laid down the condition that “All reconstruction should be based on the Park as it existed after its historic 1935-1936 rejuvenation and expansion.” Architect Richard Requa shortened and hollowed out the 1915 Foreign Arts Building to make the 1935 House of Hospitality, with the same outside clothing. His changes to other 1915 buildings were not as dramatic. They consisted chiefly of new doors, windows and fixtures. Requa admitted that most of his recommendations for sprucing up the grounds were experimental and temporary and they were so regarded by the Park Board and city officials. Light standards were taken down after the Fair, The Arch of the Future and reflecting pools in the Plaza del Pacifico and fountains in the Plaza de America were removed. The Standard Oil Building, which Alley wanted replaced, was demolished. The extent to which architect Requa understood Goodhue’s, Winslow’s and Allen’s achievements for the 1915-1916 Panama-California (International) Exposition may be questioned as his specialty was designing homes in a Mediterranean-Spanish vernacular style. At any rate, he was so dazzled by what he could do that he overlooked what was there before.

National Park Service codes requiring that additions should be “visually differentiated from the old” failed to take into account aesthetic factors or the necessity of merging small details into a harmonious overall picture. There was a concerted effort in 1915-1916 to make everything look authentic. Contrariwise, the National Park Service wanted anything added after the 1935-1936 target years for reconstruction to look inauthentic. As if the 1930’s desecrations to the ideal Spanish-Colonial city in Balboa Park were not bad enough, the National Park Service wanted more.

As Exposition buildings from the Panama-California Exposition and the California-Pacific International Exposition in Balboa Park were listed as part of a National Historic Landmark in 1978, the City had to reach an agreement with the Historic Preservation officials in the National Park Service before beginning reconstruction of the House of Charm. Tenants were expected to be the Children’s Museum, the San Diego Art Institute, and the Old Globe Theater. There was difficulty determining when additions were added and disagreement over whether 1915 or 1935 was the desirable target year for reconstruction. Some historic preservationists in San Diego wanted the interior restored to its open-redwood frame appearance. Differing in this instance from local preservationists, the National Park Service Historic Preservation Division considered maintaining the exterior of the Building to be more important than maintaining the interiors.

As reconstructed, the House of Charm has two levels above grade and two levels below. By burrowing down, interior space in the Building was increased from 20,000 to 70,000 square feet without changing its exterior profile or footprint. Wood structural framing was replaced with steel to conform to building codes. Modern plumbing and electrical systems were added. About 46 elements, consisting of wooden doors and window jambs, railings and cobblestones on low walls leading to service entrances on the south side were reused in the replacement building. Ornamental fixtures were replicated in Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic. Cement plaster exterior wall finish was supposed to match the original construction in finish and texture. Pyramid-shaped skylights along the west wall next to the Alcazar Garden admitted light into the Building’s lower level. Since the skylights were additions, National Park Service Standards required that they be different from the original building. As a consequence, they do not contribute to the Spanish-Colonial atmosphere the 1915 buildings conveyed.

The San Diego Art Institute, the Building’s last tenant, moved to temporary quarters in Mission Valley early in 1994 thus allow the rebuilding project to get underway with a quasi-official groundbreaking ceremony on June 14. The San Diego Art Institute and the Mingei International Museum of World Folk Art were chosen as primary tenants of rent-free interior spaces. Rehearsal space was set aside for the Old Globe Theater in a sub-basement, accessible from the west side.

Wayne Donaldson and Michael Johnson were hired by the City of San Diego as historical consultants prior to construction. Carrier Johnson and Wu were the offical architects. Kevin Krumdiec, who worked for this firm, was the consulting architect. Soltek of San Diego did the actual construction.

Marum Associates did the exterior landscaping, replacing old cedar trees that flanked the east entrance with young growing cedars. As the cedars had been planted after the 1935 Exposition, they should not have been included in the rebuilding, which had as its aim the re-creation of the arrested appearance of the Building and its surrounds as they were in 1935. To be historically accurate, Marum Associates should have planted the Blackwood acacias that grew in front of the east entrance in 1935, disregarding the fact that John Morley, the park superintendent at the time, regarded them as nuisances. These trees were part of the landscape scheme for the 1915 Exposition. More to the point, the old cedars had grown to such a height and had such a wide spread that they hid the east entrance from view. Since the same type of cedars, with a maximum height of about 80 feet and a spread of about 50 feet, were planted in front of the east facade during the 1996 reconstruction, there is every expectation that a like concealment will recur. It is like hiding Mona Lisa with a veil and then being asked to admire the veil.

The Committee of 100 hosted the opening of the re-created Building on September 21, 1996.

The reconstruction of the House of Charm has been contrasted with the reconstruction of the House of Hospitality by architect Wayne Donaldson, which was completed in 1997 at a cost of $15.8 million. The contrast is in the House of Hospitality’s favor. The National Park Service played a more conciliatory role during the reconstruction of the House of Hospitality and architect Donaldson was more mindful of the requirements of historic preservation than were the architects and review commissions who were involved in the rebuilding of the House of Charm. Reconstruction cost $2.3 million more than that of the House of Charm as there was more to restore in the way of hand-painted and crafted interiors. Donaldson held out for Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete over Fiber-Reinforced Plastic for ornamental details. His reasoning appears justified in light of knowledge in 1997, though some better method of reproducing relief may be found in future years.

It is never too late to remedy past mistakes. Four of the temporary Exposition buildings along El Prado have been restored, but three buildings remain missing. In 1925, the San Diego Museum of Art replaced the 1915 Sacramento Valley Building. The replacement building lacks the distinctive arcades that were part of the original 1915 Exposition buildings. It is otherwise attuned to the Spanish and Spanish-Colonial appearance of adjacent buildings. Aesthetically and functionally, it acts as a frame at the north end of the Plaza de Panama. Hope remains that the City of San Diego will someday decide to replace the modern west appendage to the Museum of Art and the Timken Museum of Art with replicas of the Science and Education and the Home Economy Buildings that formerly occupied these sites.

All reconstructions in Balboa Park in the future should be supervised by a master architect, informed about historic preservation standards and informed as well about the period architecture that is being replaced, whether it stems from the Art Deco styles of the 1930’s or the Spanish-Colonial Revival style of the 1910’s. In both El Prado and the Palisades reconstruction and landscaping should not be confined to individual buildings, though this may be why the architect was hired. It should be the architect’s task to relate each building in scale, material, color and style to other buildings with which it forms a group. The Mexicans have a word “conjunto” which defines the special quality required. Elizabeth Wilder Weismann, historian of Spanish-Colonial architecture, equates “conjunto” with Gestalt, ensemble or total effect. The impact of the individual building is not what matters. What matters is the cumulative effect of all the buildings taken together. It is this wider concept of looking beyond one’s separate commission that architects in charge of restoration and reconstruction in Balboa Park should keep in mind.

NOTE: Because this paper was derived from contradictory newspaper accounts, the author welcomes suggestions and corrections.

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