Balboa Park, under its recently approved Master Plan, will not be able to accept many more cultural immigrants. There will be room for a few new institutions as buildings are renovated and the gymnasium complex is moved out of the park. But most will have to find homes elsewhere--so that the park can remain a park.
That's why competition has been so intense for the House of Charm, a dilapidated building on the Prado that the city will be reconstructing in a few years. Seven cultural institutions are vying for the space.
The most compelling cases were presented by the Children's Museum, now in a La Jolla shopping center and badly in need of space; the Mingei International Museum of World Folk Art, also in a shopping center, and the Old Globe, which needs rehearsal space and wants to expand. The San Diego Art Institute, which exhibits works by local artists and is the current tenant of the House of Charm, also deserves to be accommodated.
The advisory committee that studied the seven proposals unanimously recommended that the Mingei and the Art Institute share the space. The city manager concurred with the recommendation, but the Park and Recreation Board voted in favor of the Children's Museum. The matter now goes to the City Council.
The city manager concluded that the Children's Museum should be in the park, but that the Prado area--with the San Diego Museum of Art, the Timken Art Gallery and the Museum of Man--was not the right place. There would be too much traffic for children's safety, even after parking lots are closed and the Laurel Street entrance is made one-way, the manager said.
The city manager recommended instead that the council promise that the Children's Museum move into the Federal Building, part of the gymnasium complex, when it becomes available in several years. The exuberance of children would be better accommodated by the more spacious open areas there, the committee concluded.
The committee's recommendation makes excellent sense. The Mingei's collections of folk art would add cultural diversity to the park, and the Mingei's willingness to share the building with the Art Institute is important. After more than 35 years in the House of Charm, it would be unfair to push the Art Institute out.
We also agree with the committee that, in a perfect world, the Federal Building is the more compatible location for the Children's Museum.
But, under the Master Plan, the Federal Building won't be available until a new site is found for the gymnasium complex, which isn't planned until phase two of the plan, 1994-1998. The House of Charm is expected to be available by 1992.
The ideal solution would be for the city to find a way to push that date forward. If the city can find a way to assure that the new gymnasium will be available in the early part of phase two, it would be wise to follow the committee's recommendation.
But, if that's not possible, the Children's Museum should be given the House of Charm, if, and it's a big if, adequate space can be found for the Art Institute.
Although both museums are hard-pressed for space in their shopping center locations, the Children's Museum has the more compelling need to be in the park. And San Diego children have a compelling need for a larger, more centrally located Children's Museum.
The traffic problems should be surmountable. And, although the patrons of the Children's Museum will be more boisterous than those of the Mingei, the minor disruption they might cause should not override the opportunity to add an important cultural element for such an important part of San Diego's population.