John G Morley

John G Morley

John G. Morley retired in 1939 after 27 years as superintendent of San Diego’s parks. He had been assistant superintendent of parks for the City of Los Angeles, becoming superintendent in 1903. He was fired for political reasons and was hired by San Diego as park superintendent in 1911.

San Diego’s big city park was being developed under a comprehensive master plan, but once the city decided to hold a world’s fair, park improvements needed to go on a fast track. The city was counting down to the January 1, 1915, opening of the Panama-California Exposition and the park commission urgently needed a capable superintendent to push ahead work in Balboa Park and in the other city parks that would attract visitors during the fair.

Morley “caught the vision,” according to a park commissioner, and on November 17, 1911, began one of the periods of intense effort and accomplishment that characterize his years in San Diego. The challenges were many. Lack of water and recalcitrant soil in Balboa Park could be solved with piping and dynamite, but it all took extra time to get a plant into the ground. In just one year, ten tons of dynamite were used to blast holes for trees. A Harvard-trained landscape architect later observed that Morley had handled an almost impossible horticultural problem with intelligence and dogged perseverance, obtaining results that won national and international praise.

A second challenge was to Morley’s skill as a diplomat and negotiator. Within Balboa Park, the Exposition Committee had authority to design and construct buildings, roads and bridges. Although crossed lines of authority were inherent in this arrangement, Morley found ways to work cooperatively with the engineer and architect of the exposition.

Finally, the scope of responsibility Morley undertook as superintendent of parks was exceptionally broad. Besides Balboa Park, he was responsible for 49 other San Diego parks. Torrey Pines Park was then in the city system, along with the La Jolla waterfront park, and Soledad and Collier Parks.

Morley added a fierce work ethic to a mix of job skills and fully met the challenges. The Panama-California Exposition was known as the “Garden Fair”—a testament to the beauty of the exposition grounds and the park by 1915. An architectural journal later wrote: “Everyone knows that the San Diego Fair resulted in Balboa Park and John Morley, two monuments to horticulture.”

Just weeks after the Exposition closed in 1917, Morley took on the new challenge of preparing park buildings for the use of the Navy as America’s entry into world war loomed. Morley again had to deal with parallel authority figures in the park and he again won praise for his cooperation and for the speedy facilitation of military needs.

…from an article by Nancy Carol Carter in California Garden May/June 2011, Volume 102, Number 3

On May 12, 1935, the San Diego Union mentioned that John Morley lived in the Model Farm home of the 1915 Exposition, surrounded by Zoo buildings.