Albert H. Fulcher | Contributing Editor
Friends of Balboa Park and the City of San Diego Parks & Recreation Department recently partnered together to embark on an ambitious project — reconstructing the 1935 Honeymoon Bridge. This landmark previously spanned Palm Canyon, connecting Alcazar Garden and the International Cottages in Balboa Park.
At a fundraiser event at the Ballroom in Balboa Park on Jan. 13, supporters of this project gathered for an evening of entertainment from the world-famous Yale Whiffenpoofs, America’s oldest collegiate a capella singing ensemble. This event kicked off fundraising efforts for Phase 2 of this three-stage reconstruction project.
The bridge, which stretched over Palm Canyon, was built in 1935 and demolished in the 1950s. With an array of variable elements designed by renowned California architect Richard Requa, the 150-foot trestle bridge featured mission-style bell lights, wood plank walkways and railings made from eucalyptus trees. The complete recreation of this historic romantic bridge is slated for completion in late 2020 or early 2021.
George Hardy, Friends of Balboa Park board chair, confirmed Phase 1 is complete.
“The first phase was already taken care of by fundraising efforts which involved the creation of the conceptual drawings,” Hardy said. “Now we are headed towards the construction drawings.”
John Bolthouse, Friends of Balboa Park executive director, said that reconstructing the bridge will bring back a charming piece of Balboa Park’s history. Sitting 50 to 60 feet above the Palm Canyon floor, he said the original design — featuring mission bell light fixtures with drilled holes filled with jade colored glass — enhanced the bridge’s romantic attraction. If fundraising goes well, plans include extending the lights within the Alcazar Garden and also reconstruction of the original pathways leading to the bridge.
With the help of San Diego Central Library, Bolthouse said they found Requa’s original drawings of the bridge. The original staircase abutments on each side of the canyon are still intact and will be the “two pieces of the historic fabric that will be part of the recreation.”
“Actually, it was called Rustic Bridge, designed by Requa, one of the greatest architects in San Diego in the early 20th century,” Bolthouse continued. “Within five years from now you are going to see an extraordinary makeover of the entirety of Palm Canyon, including the Honeymoon Bridge.”
Kim Duclo, who has served as a Park Ranger for Balboa Park for 24 years, said that the original two acres of Palm Canyon began with Mexican fan palms dating back to the early 1900s. Now, there are more than a 1,000 species of palms that have sprouted throughout the canyon naturally, which will provide a lush view for visitors to the new bridge. As part of the reconstruction, San Diego Parks & Recreation will renovate the canyon including the variety of palms.
Duclo said that the reconstruction of the bridge almost happened 17 years ago when the Timber Framers Guild held its annual conference in San Diego.
“They wanted to build the bridge right then and offered to buy the material — and the only reason that it didn’t get done then was because the city couldn’t meet the ADA requirements in getting to the landings,” Duclo said. “Ever since that time, I think it has been back-burner for a bit. I think we have a lot of drawing, photographs, and even some of the lighting that was on it. So the Friends of Balboa Park have taken up on themselves to make this project happen.”
Duclo said that he has been archiving to try to put bits and pieces of the park’s history. Currently, his collection includes approximately 65,000 items. To complete this project, he worked with others to find old photographs, postcards and drawings mainly from the second exposition in the 1935-36 eras. One of his quests in researching was to find out how Requa’s famous Rustic Bridge became commonly known as the Honeymoon Bridge.
“Not knowing why or when it became known as the Honeymoon Bridge is the most embarrassing thing,” Duclo said. “I’ve been trying to help find out. I’ve said [there are] many possibilities, but the historians keep debunking all of the urban myths and lores.”
Hardy said he thought the name generically evolved because of the bridge’s romantic ambiance. Bolthouse added that no one really knows how or when the name change occurred. However, there is one story that he is willing to accept pertaining to eternal love.
“Why is it called the Honeymoon Bridge? I wish I could tell you exactly,” Bolthouse said. “But there is an urban myth where the legend goes that when a couple got married they would be at each end of the bridge, then walk to the center and meet with a kiss. They were supposed to have good luck. I think it is a pretty good fable — we should go with that.”
With Phase 1 of the project complete, Bolthouse noted Phase 2 is all about capital campaign fundraising, development of the Palm Canyon Comprehensive Site Improvement Plan, public workshops, community outreach and public comment.
Bolthouse said the estimated cost of the entire project is around $450,000. To date, the Friends of Balboa Park have secured approximately $37,000, and the first $24,000 went towards the due diligence phase. However, the next step is to develop architectural plans and secure more definitive cost estimates, which will require additional funds, estimated between $70,000 and $80,000. The group encourages the San Diego community to get involved in the reconstruction process and help funding the project.
Though much of the night’s talk was focused on fundraising and urban legends about the name of the rustic bridge, a major highlight of the Jan. 13 event was the entertainment element. With its harmonious tones, the Yale Whiffenpoofs ranged from jazzy compositions to contemporary versions of old classics. One of the singers is from San Diego, and another is Whiffenpoof’s first female second tenor touring with them this season. The group sang with precision and a lot of personal charm with some exceptional, noteworthy arrangements. All different in genre representation, specific standouts for the night included renditions of “Rainbow Connection,” “Nature Boy,” “House of the Rising Sun,” “Got to Get You into my Life,” and “Sweetest Berry.”
For more information about the Friends of Balboa Park’s recreation of the Honeymoon Bridge project and how to donate, visit bit.ly/2CM4Prq.
—Albert Fulcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.