10News takes rare tour of San Diego's iconic California Tower

Museum of Man hopes to reopen it to public

SAN DIEGO - For the first time, a change could be coming to the California Tower at Balboa Park that hasn't been seen in generations.  

In a rare look, 10News got a personal tour of the California Tower, rich with history people would love to see. But it faces one major hurdle in the effort to reopen it to the public.

Behind a plain white door in the Museum of Man are steps to a place few San Diegans have seen.

"I never thought it would be possible to open," said Hope Carlson, the museum's chief development officer.

But now, Carlson does believe it could happen.

"Every single day, we get many people who come and ask our admissions staff, 'Oh please, can't I go up the tower?'" said Carlson.

For more than 80 years, the answer has been no.

It is a 195-step climb to the top, and about a quarter of the way up is a large landing.

"We would want this to be more exhibit space," Carlson said.

About halfway up, the steps change and the spiral staircase begins.

Carlson opens a metal hatch and sunlight appears, along with a spectacular view.

When asked why the tower was closed all those years ago, Carlson said, "There's not a whole lot of information that's available."

The 198-foot tower and museum were built for the Panama-California Exposition in 1915, when only 40,000 people lived in San Diego.  

"There are all kinds of questions that come up and one is safety; that is our primary concern," Carlson said when asked about the hurdles in reopening the tower to the public.

She said children and seniors may have trouble navigating the spiral steps, and installing an elevator would have to be weighed against historic preservation.  

After several more spiral steps, the tour reaches the top, and the sound of bells are heard coming from speakers.

The chimes are wired from the first landing in the tower all the way to the top. The real chimes activated by a carillon are piped out electronically.

Asked why it is important to reopen the tower, Carlson told 10News, "Oh, gosh, it's the iconic building in San Diego. As you look out over this view, I think that makes the case."

Following a feasibility study, the museum is preparing to submit its proposal.  

The goal is to open the tower for the 2015 centennial celebration. The renovations could cost up to $2 million dollars.

To read more about the effort to open the California Tower to the public, visit here. (Mobile users: museumofman.org/tower)

You can also read the blog of a museum employee here.

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