In our latest post detailing Balboa Park’s big changes and controversies, we found out about the military occupations of the park. The city twice turned over the exposition grounds to the U.S. Navy for training and hospital use, during World War I and II.

It’s wild to see familiar landmarks juxtaposed with uniformed sailors. I’ve got a few more images to share with you. In the photo above, the four-and-a-half-foot-deep lily pond in front of the botanical building hosts swimming lessons for sailors. That one came from Special Collections at the San Diego Public Library. Rick Crawford, who supervises that department, wrote an article about the lily pond’s wartime sacrifice a couple of years ago.

David Marshall, an architect who’s worked on several restoration and rebuilding projects in Balboa Park, put together his collection of historic postcards for a book on Balboa Park in 2007. He sent a few WWI-era images from his chapter, “The Navy Moves In”:

A navy biplane flies over the park.

This one was taken from the roof of what’s now the House of Hospitality looking over the Plaza de Panama, Marshall said. “The hand-written message on this card reads, ‘How do you like this flag, it takes quite a few men to make a flag like this.’ According to the caption it takes 3,400,” he wrote.

And here’s another great one from the lily pond lagoon, doing double-duty for rowing practice and swim lessons. Marshall dug up a reference from the San Diego Union newspaper on July 8, 1918: “Jack gets instruction on two regulation navy 25-foot cutters in the swimming pool. The pool is too small for maneuvering, but, nevertheless by the time his instruction is finished, he has learned the handling of oars and sails.”

I’m Kelly Bennett, reporter for Voice of San Diego. You can reach me directly at or 619.325.0531.

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Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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