After Two Decades, Mexico May Get Its Own International Cottage At Balboa Park
When the House of Mexico first celebrated Mexican Independence Day in Balboa Park's international village, it hosted the party at the House of Sweden's digs. The cultural organization didn't have a cottage of its own in the park, and the group's founder was dating a Swede at the time.
This year, the House of Mexico hopes to host the celebration at its own place — or at least at the site of its future place.
The San Diego Planning Commission unanimously approved a plan Thursday that would add nine cottages to the park's House of Pacific Relations complex. It's one of many steps needed to expand the complex, but many are celebrating the vote. It comes two decades after immigration activist Enrique Morones first petitioned for a cottage to represent Mexico.
"The houses that exist now — and they're wonderful —but that's San Diego yesteryear," Morones said. "Today's communities are not represented."
The original 15 cottages were claimed first-come-first-served by groups that wanted to showcase their heritage during the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. Four more Spanish Colonial cottages were added later for Hungary, Iran, Puerto Rico and Spain.
The groups continue to offer cultural programming in the village each Sunday. But those representing 13 countries do not have cottages and must trade off Sundays in the nearby Hall of Nations, which has been closed for repairs. Construction crews working to make the building wheelchair accessible last summer found it lacks a foundation, said village Vice President Heikki Gromlund.
Many of the buildings constructed for the expositions were meant to be temporary, but they're still standing as San Diego this year celebrates the centennial of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.
The Planning Commission vote means nonprofit groups representing Colombia, India, Lebanon, Palestine, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Mexico and Turkey can begin working with an architect to draft plans for the new spaces.
Many say the House of Mexico cottage is long overdue given the nation's influence on San Diego.
"The majority of the population of the school-age children in San Diego today, and even more so tomorrow, are of Mexican ancestry," said Morones, who worked at the park's Starlight Theatre and trained for cross country on its grounds as a teenager. "It's important that they be able to go to Balboa Park, as well as people that are not of Mexican ancestry, and learn about the wonders of Mexico."
San Diego County actually has 47 percent Hispanic students, according to kidsdata.org. Schools do not collect data on nationality.
So why the holdup? A 2004 U-T San Diego story suggests there were tensions between the House of Mexico and the former board for the House of Pacific Relations, which oversees the village and approves new memberships. At the time, the House of Mexico was being considered for full membership — not a cottage, but the opportunity to offer weekly programs in the village's communal spaces.
The story points to both politics and discrimination as potential reasons for the tension. Whatever the reason, the vote was uncharacteristically split.
But adding new cottages also isn't an easy process. Gromlund said this expansion is 10 years in the making. The new additions require amendments to the Balboa Park Master Plan and the Central Mesa Precise Plan, which is like a community plan for the southern section of Balboa Park. And because Balboa Park is a historic landmark, the Historic Resources Board must give its approval.
City spokesman Bill Harris said the plan could take more than a year to get to City Council Chambers for final approval, and that there are "a lot of decisions yet to be made" regarding the scope of the expansion.
The preliminary plan would add six cottages south of the existing village and three at its northern entrance. The turf areas surrounding the village would remain largely intact.
The cost will fall on the nonprofit groups that run the international village, many of which have already begun fundraising. The House of Mexico has raised about half of the estimated $250,000 needed to build its cottage. The House of Panama has raised nearly $36,000.
Morones said he'd like to celebrate Mexican Independence Day in September with a groundbreaking ceremony, if not a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
But Gromlund said the village aims to break ground on the expansion as part of its December Nights celebration this year.