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Muni Gym gets a historic coat of paint and a mayoral visit

Updated: Jan 14, 2022

Balboa Park's legendary Municipal Gym, where athletes past and present honed their hoop skills, has gotten a historic makeover and mayoral visit.

The 28,000-square-foot building in the park's Palisades area has been painted in a beige hue, "Palisades Tan," the same color used when it was built in 1935 for the California Pacific International Exposition. City officials said it's been at least 20 years since it was last painted.

The Balboa Park Committee of 100, the park's oldest support group founded in 1967 to restore its historic buildings and grounds, donated $16,000 worth of paint and materials and city crews did the rest.

"It's just a small difference, just a couple buckets of paint, but look at what it's already doing," said San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria when he checked on the painting progress Tuesday in the Palisades area of Balboa Park. He applied a few brush strokes to the building as well.

"We recognize that we haven't always been hitting our mark in Balboa Park in recent history," he continued. "Those things are changing. We're making the needed investments from a public perspective, from a philanthropic perspective, and we're starting to take parts of the park and really making them special for the crown jewel that we know the park is."

Douglas Barnhart, whose company serves as the construction manager for C100's Palisades projects, handed over a $100,000 check from him and his wife, Nancy, toward the $300,000 fund-raising goal to complete the restoration of the gym.

"I've had the honor of constructing gyms across California," he said, recalling his youth playing basketball, the gym's major user sport. "This one is unique. And I think that as we bring forth our youth, the way athletics works is you learn to win with grace, you learn to lose with dignity… How you handle that is a great teacher in how you handle your life."

C100 President Roger Showley said the next phase of the gym's restoration is to return the artistic features of the building when it was the Palace of Electricity and Varied Industries at the 1935 expo. They include a monumental bas-relief entrance panel themed to the building's expo role and Mayan-inspired decoration.

C100 completed the restoration in May of the nearby San Diego Automotive Museum, principally four monumental murals depicting 1930s California scenes in tune with its role as the California State Building at the expo. Simultaneously the city converted the southern half of the Pan-American Plaza parking lot into a pedestrian-only zone and replaced the lost parking spaces elsewhere.

"Restoring the Municipal Gym will not only enhance its appearance but also add a sense of pride for the athletes who flock to the building to play basketball, pickleball and other indoor sports," Showley said. "It is one of the key building blocks in bringing the Palisades back to life as a vibrant, fun-filled part of Balboa Park."

- Roger Showley, President

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