The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1974, Volume 20, Number 1

The Romance of Balboa Park. Second Edition. By Florence Christman. San Diego: Neyenesch Printers, Inc., 1973. Bibliography. Illustrations. Map. Index. 196 pages. $1.90.

Reviewed by Robert F. Heilbron, President Emeritus of San Diego Mesa College. Mr. Heilbron, who served as assistant editor of the History of San Diego County (1936), has had his own “romance” with Balboa Park. He has served on the board of directors of several institutions in the park such as the Hall of Science and the San Diego Society of Natural History, as well as on the board of the San Diego Historical Society.

The first edition of this paperback, published in 1969, proved so popular that it was soon out of print. The present edition reports recent developments, corrects some of the minor errors of the first edition, and adds an index.

The book tells something of the early history of San Diego and the dedication, in 1868, of 1,400 acres of pueblo lands which “shall be for a park.” It describes the slow early development and the triumph of the Expositions of 1915 and 1916. It tells of the use of the park by the Armed Forces during World War I, its redevelopment for the brave Expositions of 1935 and 1936 and its reoccupation by the Armed Forces during World War II. The author then lovingly describes the remarkable improvements of the last twenty-five years and closes with a warning that continued watchfulness is necessary to protect these priceless acres and insure that they shall, indeed, “be for a park,” forever.

Ms. Christman has done a tremendous amount of research and has brought together a mass of information never before available in a single volume. Her accounts of events include a wealth of fascinating detail which most readers will enjoy. Some may find that her concern for detail occasionally clouds the perspective. But this is the author’s private love affair with Balboa Park and she has a right to choose the events to be reported and the depth of the reporting. Unfortunately, however, she includes in her vast assemblage of facts a substantial amount of error.

When weaving a fabric of romance from historical records, accurate rendering of the names of persons and places is important. Here it is difficult to place the blame; upon author, publisher, editor, or proofreader, but there are simply too many mistakes. Among more than fifty errors noted by this reviewer, probably the most remarkable involve Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink. Her name appears five times, in four different ways, none of them correct, and is not in the index.

The index, itself, new in this edition, includes a surprising number of errors. An example, fortunately not typical: artist Belle Baranceanu is mentioned on page 108 but the index reads: “Baroanceau Bell 149”-one entry with five errors.

Because this little book brings together so much from so many sources it may be used as a reference by later writers. It is therefore important that its historical and biographical material be as accurate as possible. Of misleading biographical notes one example should suffice. On page 17 we read, concerning Kate Sessions, “She came to San Diego in 1883 as Vice-principal of San Diego High School.” The facts, found in the Minutes Of the City Board of Education, are that Miss Sessions came to San Diego in 1884 to be Principal of the Russ School, which was then a grammar school. No high school classes were offered until 1886, more than a full year after Kate Sessions gave up teaching.

Visitors to Balboa Park are frequently seen studying the many plaques and inscriptions to be found there. The author describes some twenty of these, providing the texts. Most of the plaques are of enduring bronze and are easily read, but Ms. Christman has copied only one or two accurately. For example, on page 154 the first lines of the Lowe Carillon plaque read, sadly, “Ona May Carillon” instead of “The / Ona May Lowe / Carillon.” Some of the errors are minor but too many are serious.

To the list of deficiencies of The Romance of Balboa Park must be added a few more. In typography and organization it lacks consistency. Many errors in spelling, haphazard punctuation and excessive capitalization demonstrate that the author has not been well served by her editor and proofreader.

This is a frustrating and fascinating book-with so much that is good and too much that is not. I hope that many will buy it for the good that is in it and that the author and publisher will thus be encouraged to issue a third edition to correct the most serious errors.