Alfred D. Robinson (1866-1942) was noted for growing begonias in his large public garden in Point Loma (Rosecroft Gardens). He originated the use of lath houses for growing begonias and other tropical plants and was the inspiration for the construction of the large lath botanical building in Balboa Park.
Having met and married a young heiress, Robinson and his wife heard a presentation in San Francisco by Katherine Tingley, who was soliciting money and participants for her utopian theosophical compound, Lomaland, in coastal San Diego. They immediately moved to Point Loma and, in 1903, purchased 10 acres adjacent to Lomaland and enrolled their first child in Tingley’s school at Lomaland.
The San Diego Chamber of Commerce asked Robinson to consult on the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. In Sunset magazine in 1912, Robinson published an article entitled “A Palace of Lath”, proposing construction of a giant lath house for the Exposition.
All over California, people were enthralled with the idea of a lath house for San Diego. Exposition officials became convinced and inspired by “Robinson’s Dream”.
Architects Carleton Winslow and Bertram Goodhue prepared plans for the building even before funds were secured. Natural redwood lath was the primary material. An open barrel design with a domed center element over structural steel was chosen. This was in order to be compatible with the Spanish stucco architecture of the rest of the Prado. At the time of its construction, it was heralded as the largest open-lath botanical building of its type in the world. Robinson’s lath house became the center of the large botany complex that also included a glasshouse, Japanese gardens, and reflecting pools.
Adapted from a biography on the San Diego Floral Association website