With Roadblocks Behind, Supporters of Car Museum Predict Summer Debut

Times Staff Writer

After being stalled for seven years by community opposition, an antique automobile museum could open by late summer in Balboa Park.

On Jan. 15, the city will officially turn over the park’s Conference Building to San Diego Automotive Museum officials under a 25-year lease.

“We plan to open in late summer . . . by then, our auto exhibits will be in place,” said Barry Humphrey, the museum’s executive director.

Renovations Required


As part of the lease, the museum will be required to renovate the Conference Building, erected for the Pan American Exposition of 1935.

Renovation will include laying new tile, rewiring, installing a security system and knocking down small office walls to create a large exhibition hall. The exterior will be painted and landscaped. The total cost of the renovation will be $500,000.

The lease also requires the construction of 36,000 square feet of additional space. To meet this requirement, the museum will build a $4-million structure to house a gift shop, an automotive reference library, and a restoration and repair shop.

“The park wants (the Conference Building) to look as much as possible like it was in 1935. As a result, we will be closing windows in the front and north side of the building. We will do landscaping to preserve the big trees, to clean up the planter area and put in new concrete curbs,” Humphrey said.


Once the restoration work is completed, the museum will house 35 to 40 antique cars in the main exhibit hall and 15 to 20 smaller displays, Humphrey said.

Began With Controversy

From its beginning, the plan to house the automotive museum in Balboa Park was mired in controversy because the museum would displace community groups that used the building, including a recreation league for the disabled, a table tennis league and a folk-dancing group.

Supporters of the museum said community groups could be moved to other park locations. They said money from a parks bond measure could help provide space for the community groups. (Last November, voters rejected Propositions B and C, which would have provided $93.7 million and $73.9 million in bond funds, respectively, to make major renovations in Balboa and Mission Bay parks.)

Humphrey said most of the groups formerly housed in the building have been relocated elsewhere in the park.

But Paul Downey, press secretary to Mayor Maureen O’Connor, who has opposed the car museum, said that not all of the groups found space in Balboa Park.

“Some of the groups that have been displaced will have to find churches, halls, and other facilities to use, but not in the park because the remaining buildings are too small and badly in need of restoration work.”