There is no other place like San Diego's Balboa Park. Unlike many other famous urban parks, it is renowned for its combination of nature and architecture. The 1,400 acre "City Park" was founded in 1868, and in 1909 the idea of a grandiose park was formulated in order for San Diego to host the Panama–California Exposition of 1915–1916. After the San Diego City Council made the decision to build a cultural park for the Exposition, the City renamed City Park to Balboa Park in 1910 in honor of the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who led the first expedition to the Pacific Ocean by crossing the Isthmus of Panama. This event was not only to celebrate the construction of the Panama Canal, but to boast that San Diego's bay was the closest west–coast American port to Panama. The City Council turned to Bertram G. Goodhue, hiring him as the leading architect for the Exposition.
Goodhue was an American architect who was recognized as an authority on Spanish Colonial architecture. He had a vast amount of experience from designing the Gothic cathedral at The United States Military Academy at West Point, and the Saint Thomas Church in New York City. Goodhue designed Balboa Park with a mix of Mediterranean and Spanish Colonial Revival style which is a combination of Spanish Baroque and Spanish Colonial architecture, and with that wanted to recall the glamour, artistic, and unique culture of the romantic Spanish cities such as Seville and Toledo in Spain, and Guadalajara in Mexico.
San Diegans took pride in the Panama–California Exposition which opened on January 1, 1915, and though it wasn't as large as others of its time, the official Guide Book of the Panama–California Exposition regarded it as the most interesting and beautiful of all. Following the Exposition, Balboa Park was acknowledged for its amazing Spanish Colonial Revival buildings, and structures such as the California Tower became symbols for Balboa Park, San Diego, and all of Southern California. The Exposition was a huge success, with a turnout of almost four million visitors in just two years.
Just four months after the Exposition ended, the Navy occupied Balboa Park as the United States entered World War I.