The California Building – Museum of Us

Located on the traditional homeland of the Kumeyaay Nation in the heart of Balboa Park, the California Building–home to the Museum of Us, formerly known as the San Diego Museum of Man–was constructed for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, which commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal and transformed San Diego into the major city it is today. Notable for its iconic Tower, the California Building has welcomed visitors to Balboa Park for over 100 years and has become a San Diego landmark.

The California Building was designed by noted architect Bertram Goodhue as a design hybrid, blending Plateresque, Baroque, Churrigueresque, and Rococo details to present a unique Spanish-Colonial façade with inspiration from Spanish churches in Mexico. The building is included in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the California Quadrangle, the complex made up of the California Building and the Mission-style building it connects with across the plaza, which houses the St. Francis Chapel.

At the time of construction, the men depicted on the building’s façade were celebrated for their influence and impact in the shaping of California. Today, we recognize these men participated in the colonization of California that resulted in genocide and the forced assimilation of Indigenous communities across California. Through all of this, Indigenous peoples stayed resilient and maintained their cultural vitality, traditional lifeways, and spirituality into present-day California.

The Museum of Us is a contemporary cultural anthropology museum that stewards cultural resources from global populations, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. The Museum emerged from the 1915 Exposition’s anthropological exhibit, The Story of Man through the Ages, and explores the human experience from multicultural perspectives to spark dialogue, self-reflection, and human connections.

Also part of the Museum of Us blueprint is the Irving Gill Administration Building constructed in 1911. This building was the first structure in Balboa Park, serving as the planning headquarters for the entire Panama-California Exposition. Today it houses the offices for Museum staff. The City of San Diego owns the Museum of Us buildings and maintains facility improvements, including the California Tower.