Return of the Electriquette
“That’s so cool!” “It looks like patio furniture on wheels.” “It reminds me of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” “Can I drive it?”
What is causing all this excitement and chatter on the Prado? The return of the famous “Electriquette” to Balboa Park. The little wicker vehicle is powered by electricity and reaches a top speed of 3.5 mph. Over 100 of these carts, modeled after wicker pushchairs used at seaside resorts, were used at San Diego’s 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition.
Most San Diegans have seen the Electriquette in old photographs — even if they never knew what they were called. An early newspaper article referred to the cars as “Electric Chairs,” but thankfully that nickname didn’t stick. None of the vehicles are known to have survived.
In 2011, attorney, developer, and preservationist Sandor Shapery began his quest to manufacture up to 100 new Electriquettes to be rented during the park’s 2015 centennial celebration. Shapery approached my office to provide research and design drawings. The first prototype was manufactured in China, refined in Massachusetts, and finally unveiled in November 2012 at the San Diego History Center. It was an instant hit and remained on display for several months.
Since that time, Shapery and his team have been meeting with park institutions, refining the design, giving test drives, and trying to work out an arrangement to rent the Electriquettes to park visitors for 2015 and beyond.
It turns out that resurrecting a motorized cart made out of wicker from 96-year-old photographs was the easy part. Trying to finalize a concession agreement with the ever-changing leadership of the centennial celebration has proved much more daunting. Luckily Shapery is nothing if not persistent. Buoyed by the overwhelming support of everyone who wants to see the Electriquette return to Balboa Park, Shapery is committed to making it happen.
And yes, one day soon you can drive one too. DAVID MARSHALL, AIA, ARCHITECT AND PRESIDENT OF HERITAGE ARCHITECTURE & PLANNING
As a promotion for the Panama-California Exposition, an auto race took place in Point Loma on January 9, 1915. There was plenty of excitement that day, and some scary vehicle mishaps as well. The two-year-old racecourse was covered with loose decomposed granite and regarded as dangerous. To please spectators, vendors were plentiful and free wagon rides were available at points along Rosecrans Boulevard.
The race began on Rosecrans, continued on Lytton Street, and moved south onto Chatsworth to Catalina Boulevard. There was a left turn at Talbot, another left on Canon, and then the “Roseville Turn,” which led back to Rosecrans where two more miles remained. The event reportedly drew 50,000 onlookers, and, following the race, prizes were awarded to winners on the Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park.
Unfortunately, the off-site race venue drew people away from the Exposition rather than to it, and attendance at the park that day was only slightly more than 6,000, considerably lower than usual.
It was not the first or last Exposition stumble. DARLENE G. DAVIES
Auto Race: Photo courtesy of Panama-California Exposition Digital Archive All other photographs courtesy of David Marshall