The Botanical Building and Lily Pond in Balboa Park is one of the most photographed locations in Balboa Park, but the path to popularity took many turns. It was envisioned by Alfred Robinson, president of the San Diego Floral Society when plans were being made for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. Organized as a celebration of the completion of the Panama Canal, the dual purpose of the exposition was also to put San Diego on the map as an important metropolitan port city. San Diego would be the first port-of-call on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal, and promoters wanted to secure its position among major cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The Architectural Dream Diminished
The original vision for the Botanical Building and Lily Pond was a Spanish-colonial structure, palatial in size and scope, but after the architects quit over creative differences with project leaders, the resulting structural changes left the building a shadow of its original dream. Still, when it was completed, it was and remains today one of the largest lath structures in the world. The reflecting pool in front of the building has gone through its own trying times, twice being relegated to a swimming pool during war times. It has had three major renovations over the years.
The Botanical Building Today
It is hard to imagine the Botanical Building and Lily Pond as insufficient in any way. The building’s structure is stunning with its large central dome and long aisles of plants and flowers on either side. There are over 2,100 plants on permanent display and clearly labeled for visitors to learn about and enjoy. Lush green ferns, delicate orchids, and vibrant impatiens nestled among palms and other tropical plants are a feast for the senses. The subdued lighting of the lath structure casts cool shadows throughout and offers visitors a pleasant and peaceful experience even on the hottest summer day. Kids will delight at the musty smells of the plant bog while studying the marveling over the carnivorous Venus Fly Trap. There is a Touch and Smell garden that is as much fun for adults as for kids; experience the scents of all kinds of aromatic plants like chocolate.
The Lily Pond Today
As much as the Lily Pond is a favorite of photographers, it is equally popular with artists. It isn’t unusual to see someone drawing or painting colorful koi fish, timid turtles, or fully-bloomed lilies. Ample seating, some shaded along the length of the pool makes a good spot for people-watching or just sitting reflectively for awhile. Don’t be surprised to see a busker or two during summer months. The large shade trees to the left of the building entrance provide a cool space in the grass for a family picnic, a reading group, or just a casual conversation away from the crowds. Indulge in the beauty of the outdoor space before or after visiting the colorful offerings of the Botanical Building; you won’t be disappointed.