Several years ago I wrote a short blog about the Spreckels Theater Building on Broadway. I took a few photos of the six-story office building’s exterior and Grand Lobby. You can see those here.
During the San Diego Architectural Foundation 2018 OPEN HOUSE event last weekend, I enjoyed a tour of the Spreckels Theatre, which is found inside the large mixed-use building. Our group met in the building’s Grand Lobby near the original old box office, which for many years had been hidden and forgotten behind a wall. We then ventured into the theatre’s smaller elegant Baroque lobby.
After learning some fascinating history, we headed down an aisle through the theatre, up over the orchestra pit and right up onto the stage! By tilting our heads back we could gaze six floors straight up at the stage’s complex workings, and by walking a few steps off the stage, we could poke our noses into the three “Star” dressing suites.
Our group was provided with all sorts of cool information, but sadly I didn’t write it all down. We did learn that the Spreckels Theatre and the building that it’s housed in was built by San Diego entrepreneur and philanthropist John D. Spreckels, and was designed by Harrison Albight. The structure is built of concrete and steel–it actually contains more steel than nearby modern high-rises. The Grand Lobby outside the theatre entrance contains a vast quantity of beautiful onyx that was shipped in from Mexico.
When the theatre opened in 1912 it was the largest theatre of its kind west of New York City. The theatre originally had 1915 seats, to celebrate the 1915 Panama-California Exposition which would be held in Balboa Park. The theatre has been operating continuously for its entire existence–well over a hundred years. To this day, the theatre has one of the best acoustic ratings anywhere in the world.
Everyone in our tour group smiled when we heard about a 1923 production of Ben Hur, which included horse-drawn chariots actually racing across the Spreckel Theatre’s stage! Apparently the chariots raced in a circle through the lot behind the building, and would periodically come into the building to thunder across the stage!
The interior of the theatre was fairly dark during our tour, so many of my photographs didn’t come out very good. Please read the captions to learn some more about this very cool old theatre.
One additional thing! When questions were posed to the theatre’s manager, I asked whether Conan O’Brien would be returning to the Spreckels Theatre for 2018 San Diego Comic-Con. The answer was he almost certainly will!
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