History comes alive during tour of Spanish Village.

Tour guide Jeff explains that today's Studio 36 Sculpture Guild was an outdoor theatre in the early years of Spanish Village. The front was a lobby and ticket booth. Writers, actors and set designers would act out plays on the inner patio.
Tour guide Jeff explains that today’s Studio 36 Sculpture Guild was an outdoor theatre in the early years of Spanish Village. The front was a lobby and ticket booth. Writers, actors and set designers would act out plays on the inner patio.

Spanish Village Art Center, in beautiful Balboa Park, is where you’ll find the colorful studios of many fine San Diego artists. Last year I blogged about the history of this fascinating place. A small exhibit in Gallery 21 recounted how Spanish Village was created for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition, and traced the village’s evolution over subsequent decades. Unfortunately, that exhibit no longer exists. But I did record much of it. To enjoy an overview of the history, you can revisit my old blog post by clicking here.

Last Saturday I was given a terrific tour of Spanish Village by a super friendly guy named Jeff. During the tour, Jeff showed me some unusual, unexpected features of Spanish Village and delved into its often surprising history.

(Fortunately, Jeff gave me some notes that I will reference in this blog. Should you enjoy a tour yourself, you can probably obtain your own copy!)

Please read the photo captions where I provide descriptions and very short explanations. As you’ll see, many interesting changes in Spanish Village have taken place over the years. And I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface!

If something I’ve written is inaccurate, or needs some elaboration, leave a comment! What memories do you have?

Click here to check out the Spanish Village Art Center blog! Support these great artists!

An old photograph of how Spanish Village appeared around the time of the California Pacific International Exposition of 1935.
An old photograph of how Spanish Village appeared around the time of the California Pacific International Exposition of 1935.

In 1935, when Spanish Village opened, visitors strolled down simulated Old World streets, which featured restaurants and shops in picturesque, open-arched buildings. The architecture was inspired by the Andalusian region of southern Spain. In addition to wine shops, a cocktail lounge and a Chinese Bazaar, one could buy flowers and enjoy music, art . . . and even a high wire trapeze act!

You can see in the above old photograph a no-longer-existing building at the center of today’s large patio. It separated Spanish Village into two “streets” that visitors could enjoy.

Over the years, resident artists have built out the small open air shops to create practical but unique enclosed spaces. Some of the open arches have been filled in, or can now be seen inside certain studios.

A current map of Spanish Village shows how it appears today. You can find this wonderful part of Balboa Park between the Natural History Museum and the San Diego Zoo.
A current map of Spanish Village shows how it appears today. You can find this wonderful part of Balboa Park between the Natural History Museum and the San Diego Zoo.
Jeff shows me Studios 34 A and 34 B, which were originally one space featuring a puppet show.
Jeff shows me Studios 34 A and 34 B, which were originally one space featuring a puppet show.
Studios 24 through 28 surround a small inner courtyard. This area in Spanish Village originally contained a wishing well and actual horse stalls!
Studios 24 through 28 surround a small inner courtyard. This area in Spanish Village originally contained a wishing well and actual horse stalls!
Studio 6 has a sliding barn door! Two other studios dating from the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition have similar doors.
Studio 6 has a sliding barn door! Two other studios dating from the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition have similar doors.
Studio 8, like many others in Spanish Village, was built out from the original open archway to provide more space for the artists. The words The SHANGHAI are from 1935. It evidently used to be a bar.
Studio 8, like many others in Spanish Village, was built out from the original open archway to provide more space for the artists. The words The SHANGHAI are from 1935. It evidently used to be a bar.
Near Studio 8's entrance are two amazing works of art. Here's one. It was created by John Novy, a potter who was a member of Spanish Village from 1969 to 1977.
Near Studio 8’s entrance are two amazing works of art. Here’s one. It was created by John Novy, a potter who was a member of Spanish Village from 1969 to 1977.
Second amazing installation of ceramic tiles on exterior of Studio 8 in Spanish Village. This art was created by professional potter John Novy.
Second installation of ceramic tiles on exterior of Studio 8 in Spanish Village. This art was created by professional potter John Novy.
This used to be the east entrance into Spanish Village. Today you'll find outdoor glassblowers creating amazing glass art while visitors gather around to watch.
This used to be the east entrance into Spanish Village. Today you’ll find outdoor glassblowers creating amazing glass pieces while visitors gather around to watch.
The old east entrance (under the tiles) is now blocked off. Much of the grassy area used by today's Balboa Park Miniature Railroad used to be a parking lot.
The old east entrance (under the tiles) is now blocked off. Much of the grassy area occupied by today’s Balboa Park Miniature Railroad used to be a parking lot.
Studio 18 is now the office of Spanish Village Art Center. In the early years a caretaker lived here. That rooster weather vane can be seen in many old photographs.
Studio 18 is now the office of Spanish Village Art Center. In the early years a caretaker lived here. That rooster weather vane can be seen in many old photographs.
The south end of the San Diego Mineral and Gem Society building used to extend a bit into today's patio area. You can see an old wooden beam on the present-day exterior.
The south end of the San Diego Mineral and Gem Society building used to extend a bit into today’s large patio area. You can see an old wooden beam on the present-day exterior.
This quaint little street, during the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition, led into the Fun Zone! Now it leads to a small parking lot.
This quaint little street, during the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition, led into the Fun Zone! Now it leads to a small parking lot.
Gazing back south from the parking lot at today's Spanish Village in Balboa Park.
Gazing back south from the parking lot at today’s Spanish Village artist co-op in Balboa Park.
This west side of the San Diego Mineral and Gem Society building was built sometime after the 1935 Expo.
The extended west side of the San Diego Mineral and Gem Society building was built sometime after the 1935 Expo.
Originally, the building terminated where you see the arches.
Originally, the building terminated where you see the column.
Walking along the west edge of Spanish Village. Many historic columns and arches provide this artist's co-op with unique character.
Walking along the west edge of Spanish Village. Many decorative columns and arches provide this artist’s co-op with unique character.
Looking through the west archway toward a shrub elephant, which stands on a nearby, newly improved walkway the heads north to the San Diego Zoo.
Looking through the west archway toward a shrub elephant, which stands on a nearby, newly improved walkway that heads north to the San Diego Zoo.
This large dance floor (and the area where I'm standing) at the center of the colorful Spanish Village patio was once occupied by a large building. It seems there is some debate what that building was, exactly.
This large dance floor (and the area where I’m standing) at the center of the colorful Spanish Village patio was once occupied by a large building. It seems there is some debate as to what that building was, exactly.
Studio 3 is occupied by artist Don Knapp. He arrived at Spanish Village as a child! His grandmother was a founding member in the 1930s.
Studio 3 is occupied by artist Don Knapp. He arrived at Spanish Village as a child! His grandmother was a founding member in the 1930s.
Loads of fun, creative stuff is going on in Spanish Village Art Center in 2016. Please click the image to enlarge it and then mark your calendar!
Loads of fun, creative stuff is going on in Spanish Village Art Center in 2016. Please click the image to enlarge it, and then mark your calendar!
Jeff provides a really interesting tour. Look for his friendly smile if you happen to find yourself in wonderful Spanish Village!
Jeff provides a really interesting tour. Look for his friendly smile if you happen to find yourself in wonderful, historic Spanish Village!

I live in downtown San Diego and walk like crazy! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

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Published by

Richard Schulte

Downtown San Diego has been my home for many years. My online activities reflect my love for writing, blogging, walking and photography.

7 thoughts on “History comes alive during tour of Spanish Village.”

    1. The tour was a lot of fun! Spanish Village has such a rich and interesting history! Jeff was envisioning the return of writers, playwrights, and other diverse creative types to the village, like those early days. It would be cool to see outdoor live theatre, perhaps out on that dance floor area. Concerts, too! Who knows? The possibilities are endless!

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