May 31

Yesterday, I mentioned that an Atlas rocket could be seen from Highway 52. If you were curious about that, here it is.


This rocket is Atlas 2E, built in 1960 and test-fired at a Convair facility near the city of Poway. From 1963 to 1996, this rocket stood at Missile Park, near the site of the former General Dynamics plant. When the park was redeveloped, the rocket was donated to the Air and Space Museum and moved to the annex at Gillespie Field. Some have sought to move the rocket to the main branch of the Air and Space Museum at Balboa Park, but this has never happened. A shining, towering spacecraft would look completely out of place among the Spanish Colonial buildings of Balboa Park. (Never mind that the Air and Space Museum is, itself, inside of an Art Deco pavilion originally built for Ford.)

Balboa Park, by the way, is going to celebrate its centennial in 2015. And while city streets once ran completely through the park, most of El Prado is now closed to traffic. The part that’s open has been somewhat controversial as of late. Motorists are still permitted to drive across the Cabrillo Bridge, through a grand gateway, and into the Plaza de California and the Plaza de Panama, before veering right to eventually park behind the Organ Pavilion.

The problem is that the bridge and gates are both narrow and crawling with pedestrians, so it’s somewhat hazardous. The Plaza de California’s open space is mostly wasted, but the Plaza de Panama’s isn’t. It’s a lovely valet parking lot and bus turnaround.

There was once a proposal to turn these Plazas back into pedestrian-friendly places. It would have dug out the parking lot behind the Organ Pavilion and sunk a subterranean parking lot there. Then a bypass would be built off the bridge, winding around the outside of the park buildings, that went to this new lot. Conservationists were up in arms about the bypass, and managed to get the proposal put on ice.

I didn’t like the bypass idea, either. Most people who heard of it didn’t like it. The idea of the underground lot wasn’t so bad, especially considering that most people don’t even drive across the bridge anyway. Most people enter the park from the south side, where the freeway exit is.

If it were up to me, I’d limit the bridge and the Plazas to foot traffic and the parking-shuttle-and-tour trams. I’d even build the underground garage, and roof it over with new gardens.

Of course, these things always sound better on paper than they end up actually being. When Petco Park was being built, citizens were promised a vast green space would surround it, upon which to frolic, picnic, and watch ball games. The green space shrank and shrank until it became a strip of lawn upon which dogs could relieve themselves.

I suppose a dog lawn is better than a giant, neon Coke bottle. Or a Cold War era nuclear missile.

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