The most controversial element of a proposed makeover for Balboa Park is a new bridge that would partially block a view, a view that today is entirely blocked by trees.

You might have heard about the controversy already. The Mayor’s Office supports the plan to renovate the Plaza de Panama, which was conceived by a team of designers working for local philanthropist and the project’s main funder, Irwin Jacobs. Preservationists oppose it.

But here’s a peek at what the plaza looks like today and what it would look like if the proposed plan gets built, based on designers’ preliminary drawings and digital renderings, and our own photos.

The new curving bypass bridge would connect to the end of the historic Cabrillo Bridge that spans State Route 163. Cars would cross Cabrillo Bridge on their way into the park, and after crossing turn onto the bypass that would take them to a new parking structure in the center of the park.

Preservationists have opposed the way the new bypass would obscure the view visitors see as they’re crossing the Cabrillo Bridge. It would partially block a view of the south wing of the Museum of Man.

This is what it looks like today.

This is what it would like once the bridge is built.

The bypass bridge would lead to a new partially underground parking structure behind the park’s famed Spreckels Organ Pavilion. The structure would replace an existing surface-level lot, which looks like this:

Here’s what the parking structure would look like, including a rooftop park.

From the new parking structure, a proposed tram like this would shuttle pedestrians around the organ pavilion to the Plaza de Panama.

Today, the plaza is primarily a parking lot and a thoroughfare for cars on their way to the parking lots south of the plaza.

Under the new plan, it would be reconfigured as a pedestrian square.

Preservationists’ proposed alternative would eliminate the parking spots from the plaza so pedestrians could use it, but unlike the Jacobs plan, it would continue to route cars through the western portion of the Prado, the long corridor that leads into the plaza. This is the Prado today:

In their alternative, the cars would still drive through the Prado and then cut across the southwestern corner of the Plaza de Panama on their way to the existing parking lots.

Those lots would be expanded to make up for the parking spaces lost in the plaza. Preservationists say their plan would cost park visitors less because it would not include the paid parking structure. But it would also be unlikely to have Jacobs’ financial support.

Jacobs’ plan was designed on the idea that both the plaza and the Prado should be completely rid of cars — not partially. To achieve that, preservationists have also suggested closing off Cabrillo Bridge to all car traffic, but Balboa Park museums have opposed that idea because they still want visitors to drive into the park using the bridge. People entering the park by car account for a large percentage of the museum visitors.

On July 19, the City Council is expected to take a key vote to determine whether the city will continue to cooperate with Jacobs as he moves forward drawing up those plans and studying their impacts. Preservationists, led by the Save Our Heritage Organisation, are urging the council to reject the project, which they believe has been developed too quickly and without enough public input.

(Disclosure: Jacobs is a major supporter of

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at or at 619.325.0528 and follow him on Twitter:

Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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