Bea Evenson (1900-1981)

beaevensonBeatrice Barker Evenson was born in Oregon and moved to San Diego in 1924 with her husband Frank. She engaged in volunteer work in the 1950s, but her career as a prominent civic leader began when she was 65. During the next 16 years, Bea Evenson became known to those in authority as someone to be reckoned with.

In 1965, the last undeveloped land on the bay side of Harbor Drive was in danger of being commercialized. Bea decided to try to preserve it as a park, and wrote a blitz campaign of nearly 100 letters to individuals and women’s clubs seeking their support in “pushing a park.” In six months she had rallied some 75 organizations and 20,000 persons in support of the cause. She appeared countless times before the Board of Port Commissioners and in meetings with Port Staff. The end result was Spanish Landing, a park that today beautifies 4,900 ft. of the north shore of San Diego Bay.

In 1967 Bea was a founder and became the leader of a civic group named The Committee of 100, and sparked community interest in preserving the original Spanish colonial architecture of the 1915 Exposition buildings along the Prado in Balboa Park. Most were of temporary construction and inevitably had to be replaced. Their first success was the restoration of the lavishly ornamented Casa del Prado, a $3.5 million building dedicated in 1971. The project involved overcoming opposition, leading benefit drives, passage of a city bond issue, and resurrecting the virtually lost art of architectural sculpting.

Next, largely through efforts of Bea Evenson and The Committee of 100, and working with the City Manager’s staff, $8 million of Federal funds was obtained to rebuild the Ford Building for the Aerospace Historical Center, and the Casa de Balboa for housing the Hall of Champions, Museum of Photographic Arts, and Museum of San Diego History. The Casa de Balboa’s predecessor, the Electric Building, had been totally destroyed by fire on the night of February 22, 1978. The building had been scheduled to be replaced, so molds of the building’s architectural ornamentation and sculptures had been finished — and survived the fire. The entire collection of the S.D. Aerospace Museum was lost.

Bea also served as a member of San Diego County’s Cultural Heritage Commission. Her last project was restoration of the outdoor Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park, another 1915 Exposition structure. The Committee of 100 raised over $300,000 and she donated $131,000 herself toward the restoration of the organ pavilion, which was completed in 1984.

Pat DeMarce, Bea’s successor as head of The Committee of 100, said on her death in 1981 that she was “persistent but not impulsive. She sought the opinions of others. She had a knack of recognizing the right time, place and circumstances (to get things done).”

Bea Evenson died on October 31, 1981, at the age of 81. In 1981, a small plaque to her memory was affixed to the west side of the Bea Evenson Fountain in the Plaza de Balboa in Balboa Park.

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