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Livelier than ever, San Siego's Balboa Park.

San Diego's sleeping giant--Balboa Park--which snored blissfully for decades, has leaped energetically to its feet in recent years. New museums have popped up; old museusm have been spruced up. While San Diegans treasure their intracity park, fe out-of-towners are aware of the diverse resources clustered within its 1,158 acres.

Lining El Prado like peas in a pod are science, art, natural history, anthropology, sports, and photography museums, some brand-new. The park is also home to sports facilities, theaters, botanical gardens, a world-renowned zoo, and numerous jogging and picnicking areas. During the mild winter months, you can discover these resources at a leisurely pace before summer crowds arrive.

Balboa Park was built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. In 1916, architect Bertram Goodhue wrote that the flimsy facades of the exposition's Spanish colonial buildings were meant to be "swept away utterly" at the fair's conclusion that year. Although the ephemeral edifices did begin crumbling as predicted, an increasingly culture-conscious San Diego has restored them just as quickly. Today's freshly replastered facades would pleasantly surprise Goodhue. A phoenix rises from its sales

Restoration in 1982 of the Casa de Balboa, after it was consumed by fire in 1978, symbolizes San Diego's renewed commitment to its greatest cultural resource. The building houses four new museums--the Photographic Arts Museum, the Museum of Sand Diego History, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, and the Balboa ARt Conservation Center--as well as the relocated San Diego Hall of Champions.

In Casa de Balboa, you'll find evidence of a trend-setting, pragmatic approach to museum management. The new museums are on human scale, deriving strength from clever manipulation of small spaces and painstaking arrangement of exhibits. And with several tenants under one roof, utilities and rent are affordable.

Two other victims of 1978 fires occupy new homes: the San Diego Aerospace Museum and the Old Globe Theatre. The Organ Pavilion (page 80) ahs been renovaed. Scaffolds of restoration workers now wrap the facade of Hospitality House, home of Cafe del Rey Moro. Foot, hoof, and pedal tours

Newcomers can see park highlighs in a weekend, although San Diegans return regularly to view changing exhibits and theater, and to picnic in idyllic gardens. A rainy day is no obstacle, since there's as much to do indoors as out.

Although Balboa Prk is a stroller's paradise, there are two ways to go museum-hoping in style. On weekends from noon to 9, Cinderella Carriage Co. rolls horse-drawn, four-passenger (vis-a-vis) carriages on 20-minute park tours. Cost is $5 for adults, $2.50 for ages 3 to 11. For a weekday schedule, call (619) 239-8080. Sunshine Pedicab's three-wheel bicycle-taxis ply the park every day, carrying up to three persons from parking lots to museums at a rate of $1 for every 5 minutes. Cabs can be haliled or reserved: for details, call 231-9880. Old masters To Omnimax

Using the aeerial photograph at right as a guide, we begin a park tour at the zoo, as most visitors do, then head west along El Prado. We list hours, admission fees (many museums are free the first Tuesday of each month), and telephone numbers (area code 619) to call for information.

San Diego Zoo. The 125-acre zoo is internationally respected for its variety of rare and endangered animals (including the pygmy chimpanzee, Arabian oryx, and Komodo dragon), and its success at breeding them. Its 3,500 animals belong to 800 species. The zoo is also a lush botanical garden supporting 1,800 plant species. An aerial tram ($1 for adults, 75 cents for ages 3 to 15) gives a quick zoo overview; 45-minute bus tours ($2.25 adults, $1.75 kids) survey things at ground level. The new "Heart of the Zoo" contains a modern habitat for Southeast Asian primates and a high-tech aviary. The zoo also offers weekend elephant and camel rides; call for information.

Hours: 9 to 4 daily through February; 9 to 5 March through mid-June. Admission: $5.95 adults, $2.50 ages 3 to 15. Information: 234-3153. San Diego Natural History Museum.

Displays feature plants, animals, and geology of Southern California and Baja. The museum is proudest of its Hall of Shore Ecology. A recent permanent addition is the mineral and gem exhibit. Natural history films are screened weekends at 1 and 2:30; call for topics.

Hours: 10 to 4:30 daily. Admission: $2.50 adults, 50 cents ages 6 through 17; free first Tuesday. Information: 232-3821.

Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center. The theater's huge, dome-shaped Omnimax screen was the prototype for two dozen similar space theaters around the world. The theater's 340 seats are positioned on a plane tilted at 25 [deg.]; the screen stretches from overhead to beneath you. When films (shot through a special fisheye lens) are projected onto a hemispherical screen, you feel as if you're in the movie. So powerful is the experience that you're advised to close your eyes if you feel queasy.

The science center is known for its hands-on exhibits demonstrating physical principles. Its 30 displays include two new ones: the "anti-gravity mirror" (page 78) and a pedal-powered electricity generator.

Hours: 9:45 to 10:30 Fridays and Saturdays, 9:45 to 9:30 other days. Admission: theater (includes science center) $4 adults, $2.25 ages 5 to 15; science center only, $1 adults, 50 cents ages 5 to 15. Information: 238-1168.

Museum of San Diego History. Run by the San Diego Historical Society, this museum will be completed later this year. It will depict the city from 1850 to 1950, including partial reconstructions of Fifth Avenue buildings and a gallery on Balboa Park history. Its public archive, containing a huge collection of historic photographs dating to 1860, is now open 10 to 4 Tuesdays through Saturdays; for information, call 232-6203.

San Diego Model Railroad Museum. Opened last April, the 21,000-square-foot museum runs magnificent N-, HO-, and O-scale trains on weekends, though much of the miniature scenery won't be finished until 1989. The largest single model--of Tehachapi Pass--is 125 feet long and 40 feet wide, with 1/4 mile of track. Hours: 11 to 5 weekends. Free. Information: 237-9094.

Balboa Art Conservation Center. The nonprofit center, founded in 1975, is one of a handful that serve both museums and the public by restoring paintings, polychromed sculpture, and paper materials. Monthly 45-minute tours of the center's laboratory offer fascinating insight into the mechanics of art restoration. A free clinic (by appointment) advises owners on the care of their collections.

In September, the center will open an exhibition gallery with a viewing window so visitors can watch restoration daily. Hours: tours by appointment. Free. Information: 236-9702.

Museum of Photographic Arts. Less than a year old, it has already won widespread critical acclaim for its innovative, diverse shows. The museum builds an environment around the photographs with movable walls and props that complement the images. Works of international masters of cinema, photography, and video are rotated every seven weeks. Hours: 10 to 5 Tuesdays through Sundays, until 9 Thursdays. Admission: $2 adults, free under 12; free first Tuesday. Information: 239-5262.

San Diego Hall of Champions. The 16,000-square-foot hall moved to Casa de Balboa last June. When complete, new exhibits will involve visitors in exhibits through audio, video, automation, and computer simulation (you become the manager in a historical sport situation; the computer, with programmed hindsight, tells you the outcome). Already on display are pictures, equipment, trophies, and other mementos of San Diego sports heroes; a small theater presents hourly shows on local sports teams. Hours: 10 to 4:30 Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 4:30 Sunday. Admission: $1 adults, 50 cents ages 6 to 18; free first Tuesday. Information 234-2544.

Botanical Building. This wood-slat structure was originally designed as a Santa Fe Railroad depot. But before it was erected, 1915 exposition directors bought the unassembled skeleton, transported it to the park, and turned it into the Botanical Building. Now restored, it shelters some 500 species of tropical and subtropical plants. Admission is free.

Timken Art Gallery. Opened in 1965, the gallery is known for its Old Master paintings, 19th-century American works, and an unusual collection of 15th- through 19th-century Russian icons. Recent purchases include a work by French impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. A recorded tour costs $1; "Painting of the Week" lectures are given at 2 P.M. Tuesdays through Fridays. Hours: 10 to 4:30 Tuesdays through Saturdays, 1:30 to 4:30 Sundays. Free. Information: 239-5548.

San Diego Museum of Art. Permanent collections are divided into Asian, Renaissance, baroque, neoclassical, 19th- and 20th-century, modern, Dutch, English, and American art. The new Sculpture Garden Cafe (open from 10 to 4 Tuesdays through Sundays) serves a light luncheon. Sculpture Garden contains 20 works, including one by Henry Moore; another 8 pieces grace the garden's new cafe, open 10 to 4 Tuesdays through Sundays.

New monthly programs ("AM Art" and "PM Art") timed for working San Diegans discuss the permanent collection, Old Masters, and current shows; call for reservations ($4 per class). This September, the art museum will host the only West Coast showing of "The Precious Legacy: Judaic Treasures from the Czechoslovak State Collection," which broke attendance records at the Smithsonian last year. Hours: 10 to 5 Tuesdays through Sundays. Admission: $3 adults, $2.50 seniors, $1.50 students 13 to 18, 50 cents ages 6 to 12; free entry to permanent collection on first Tuesday. Information: 232-7931.

San Diego Aerospace Museum and International Aerospace Hall of Fame. They occupy the newly renovated art deco style Ford Motor Co. building, whose circular interior contains the largest wall mural in North America. Painted in 1935 by Argentine artist Juan Larrinaga, it depicts the history of transportation (compare his predictions to present reality).

This month, a full-scale replica of a 1912 Curtiss A-1 the U.S. Navy's first plane will be hung in the rotunda above The Spirit of St. Louis. An original World War II Japanese Zero fighter will also be installed, pushing the total number of aircraft on view to 53. Hours: 10 to 4:30 daily. Admission: $2.50 adults, $1 ages 6 through 17; free first Tuesday. Information: 234-8291.

House of Pacific Relations. This community of 15 cottages was built for the 1935 California-Pacific Exposition. Today 26 ethnic groups from around the world belong to the association. Dressed in native garb, they present cultural exhibits inside the cottages and festivals of music and dance outdoors on Sundays. Hours: 1:30 to 4:30 Sundays. Free. Information: 466-7654.

San Diego Art Institute. Each month, the nonprofit institute shows new sculpture, photography, painting, and work in other media by its 700 San Diego Country artis-members. Pieces are for sale at prices from $20 to $5,000. The institute also conducts public classes. Hours: 10 to 5 Tuesdays through Saturdays. 12:30 to 5 Sundays. Free. Information: 234-5946.

Simon Edison Centre for the Performing Arts. This complex contains the 580-seat Old Globe Theatre, the 225-seat Cassius Carter Centre Stage, and the 620-seat outdoor Festival Stage (for summer plays). The new Old Globe was completed in January 1982 in the footprint of the old theater, which burned in 1978. Though not a literal replica of the Elizabethan-era Globe playhouse in London, it has a charming half-timbered facade. For performance details, call 239-2255.

San Diego Museum of Man. Its 200-foottall California Tower (closed to the public), designed by Bertram Goodhue, has made this 1915 exposition building a postcard landmark. St. Francis Chapel is being restored, and a sidewalk cafe will soon open in the museum quadrangle.

The museum is best known for its American Indian artifacts. Oaxacan weaver Gabino Jimenez personities the museum's move toward "living cultural exhibits" he demonstrates his craft from 10 to 4:30 Wednesdays through Sundays. Hours: 10 to 4:30 daily. Admission: $2 adults, 25 cents ages 16 and under; free first Tuesday. Information: 239-2001.
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