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Back to the future

Posted: August 12th, 2016 | Balboa Park, Feature, Featured | No Comments

Balboa Park brings back a historical ‘movement’

By Alex Owens

Everything old ends up new again.

It’s an old saying, but one with new meaning in Balboa Park, where a mode of transportation used in the park’s early years is making a comeback.

It’s called the “electricquette,” and it’s basically a battery-powered cart that looks a little like a wicker sled. They were a popular form of transportation during the 1915 – 17 Panama-California Exposition that put Balboa Park and San Diego on the map.

An electricquette parade makes its way across the Cabrillo Bridge in 1915. (Courtesy David Marshall Collection); (inset) one of the electricquettes you can drive today (Photo by Kim Keeline)

An electricquette parade makes its way across the Cabrillo Bridge in 1915. (Courtesy David Marshall Collection); (inset) one of the electricquettes you can drive today (Photo by Kim Keeline)

As times changed, however, the electricquettes faded away, making room for faster, more “high-tech” methods, like cars, trolleys, skateboards, bikes and roller blades to become the more popular transportation choices within the park. Skateboards and roller blades were eventually banned from the park.

A postcard from 1915 (Courtesy John Earl Collection, Panama-California Exposition Digital Archive)

A postcard from 1915 (Courtesy John Earl Collection, Panama-California Exposition
Digital Archive)

But the electricquettes were not forgotten, thanks to numerous photos in the San Diego History Museum. Which is why a few history-appreciating San Diegans decided back in 2012 to bring them back.

Mike Kelly, president of The Committee of One Hundred, was one of those people. During initial planning for the park’s centennial celebration, Kelly said that he and Welton Jones, another C100 board member, met with developer Sandor “Sandy” Shapery about a special project for Balboa Park.

“That one didn’t pan out, but we brought up the possibility of resurrecting the electriquettes, which were a unique highlight of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition,” Kelly said. “Fairgoers had their photos taken in electriquettes, feeding pigeons perched on their shoulders and sitting on their heads.”

Kelly said Shapery “loved the idea” and got to work to make it happen.

“[Shapery] brought in David Marshall of Heritage Architecture to research the originals and build a prototype,” said Kim Keeline, general manager of the Electriquette Motor Cart Company

That prototype led to three, which were each displayed in a different locale, such as the History Museum, the Automotive Museum and Lindbergh Field. Now the fleet is up to 24 and more than 2,000 people have rented the throwback carts since debuting this spring, from a kiosk near the Reuben H. Fleet Space Center.

Now the Electricquette Motor Cart Company is hosting a grand opening Aug. 14, with special extended hours (11 a.m. – 7 p.m.), people dressed in outfits similar to those worn back in the “teens,” as well as prizes and other giveaways.

The electricquette can hold two adults and two children or up to 500 pounds. The price of riding a piece of history? Just $15 for 30 minutes, $25 for the first hour and $10 per hour after that.

Before you plan a race with your friends, you should take note: The electricquettes only go 3.5 miles per hour and are only allowed on the sidewalk from the fountain near the R.H. Fleet Space Center down to the Plaza de Panama and over near the entrance to the Botanical Garden.

The new electricquettes can hold up to 500 pounds and are allowed on the sidewalks alongside The Prado and near the entrance to the Botanical Garden. (Photo by Kim Keeline)

The new electricquettes can hold up to 500 pounds and are allowed on the sidewalks alongside The Prado and near the entrance to the Botanical Garden. (Photo by Kim Keeline)

Also, they aren’t 100 percent replicas of the carts that were used last century.

“We tried to keep it as authentic as possible, but these electricquettes have storage nets and cup holders,” she said. “And the battery technology is better. These can go all day on a single charge.”

The electricquettes also have an advantage that no one could have known when the plan to bring them back was initiated.

“They’re really good for Pokemon Go,” Keeline said, laughing. “At 3.5 mph, they are fast enough to chase the characters.”

For more information on the electricquettes and the Aug. 14 grand opening launch of the fleet, check out wickercarts.com, call 619-832-CART (2278) or email info@wickercarts.com.

—Alex Owens is a San Diego-based freelance writer. He can be reached at alexowenssd@gmail.com.

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