After decades-long absence, House of Mexico debuts in Balboa Park

Ballet folkloric performs during the House of Mexico cottage 's long awaited grand opening.
Ballet folklorico dancers perform during the House of Mexico cottage’s long awaited grand opening day on Saturday afternoon.
(Nancee E. Lewis/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

About 150 people gathered Saturday for grand opening of new International Cottage


For all their sunny charm as cultural showcases, the International Cottages in Balboa Park have long been shadowed by a surprising omission.

Where is the House of Mexico?

That nation and its people, such integral parts of San Diego, had their own cottage when the first group of 15 opened in the mid-1930s. Mexico occupied the space for five years, shared a different cottage with other countries for another nine years, and then mostly disappeared from the village that’s located across the street from the park’s Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

Saturday, the House of Mexico was back.

It hosted a grand opening that drew about 150 people to the courtyard outside the newly built cottage. They listened to mariachi music, watched folk dancers, ate Mexican food, and heard San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria call the occasion another chapter in an ongoing story.

“San Diego is a proud border town,” he said. “We are a better city because we are on the U.S.-Mexico border.”

Several other city and state elected officials attended the official ribbon-cutting. The cottage is awaiting final city approval before it opens to the public.

The House of Mexico shares a duplex with the House of Panama, which had its grand opening last month. They are part of a village that dates to the California Pacific International Exposition in 1935, a time of increasing conflict between nations. World War II was brewing.

A volunteer helps decorate the courtyard
A volunteer helps decorate the courtyard for the long awaited grand opening of the House of Mexico cottage in Balboa Park on Saturday afternoon.
(Nancee E. Lewis/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The idea was “to create a spirit of understanding, tolerance and goodwill” among national and ethnic groups in San Diego, according to the bylaws of the umbrella group that oversees the village, the House of Pacific Relations. (Pacific, in this context, meaning “peaceful.”)

Various “houses” have come and gone over the years. Now almost three-dozen belong to the Pacific Relations group, although not all of them have cottages in the park.

Those that do are open on weekend afternoons, and for special events like December Nights. Staffed by volunteers, the cottages showcase the history, music, art, dance and food of their respective cultures.

When the House of Mexico welcomes the public — organizers have their fingers crossed for early November — it plans to offer rotating exhibits that will spotlight different states. Up first will be Nayarit, in west-central Mexico.

“It’s going to be wonderful to have a physical presence where visitors can come in and see a little bit of Mexico, see what it has to offer,” said Blanca Gonzalez, president of the house.

Grand opening attendees gather in the courtyard near the House of Mexico.
(Nancee E. Lewis/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The group has been working for almost 20 years to rejoin the village, meeting in the meantime in various spaces around town. It raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for construction, tapping government grants and private donations.

“It was a team effort involving a lot of people and a lot of hard work,” said Art Castro, an architect who helped guide the project through the permit-approval and construction phases. “We’re excited to finally get to this point.”

In addition to the new duplex housing Mexico and Panama, the village is adding buildings to showcase the Philippines, Peru, India, Palestine, Turkey, Korea, and Chamorros.

They will join cottages for Italy, Scotland, China, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Ukraine, USA, Poland, Ireland, Finland, Germany, Israel, Colombia, France, England, the Czech and Slovak republics, Hungary, Spain, Puerto Rico and Iran.