A tour inside the historic Spreckels Theatre.

A tour group has entered the Spreckels Theatre from the Grand Lobby of the Spreckels Theater Building in downtown San Diego.
A tour group has entered the Spreckels Theatre from the Grand Lobby of the Spreckels Theater Building in downtown San Diego.

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 in 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!

The Grand Lobby shines with onyx brought in from Mexico. I learned this original box office was hidden for many years behind a wall and forgotten.
The Grand Lobby shines with onyx brought in from Mexico. I learned this original box office was hidden for many years behind a wall and forgotten.
A sign describes the Spreckels Theatre story. In the 1920's, it was transformed into a grand movie house, hosting Hollywood premieres and the leading stars of the day.
A sign describes the Spreckels Theatre story. In the 1920’s, it was transformed into a grand movie house, hosting Hollywood premieres and the leading stars of the day.
We've stepped into the lobby of the theatre. The amazing glass artwork above the entrance was created in 1983 by Yaakov Agam, commissioned by theatre President, Jacquelyn Littlefield.
We’ve stepped into the lobby of the theatre. The amazing glass artwork above the entrance was created in 1983 by Yaakov Agam, commissioned by theatre President, Jacquelyn Littlefield. Check out its very different reflection in the mirror!
The very elegant concession counter in the theatre, still in use today.
The very elegant concession counter in the theatre, still in use today.
Old photos in glass displays behind the lobby counter show the historic building, past movie stars and John D. Spreckels.
Old photos in glass displays behind the lobby’s counter show the historic building, past movie stars and John D. Spreckels.
Spreckels Theatre. Opening Night August 23, 1912.
Spreckels Theatre. Opening Night: August 23, 1912.
Looking up at light fixtures, one at the theatre lobby and one up some stairs at the Mezzanine.
Looking up at light fixtures, one at the theatre lobby and one up some stairs at the Mezzanine.
Portraits of Hollywood stars left of the front counter.
Portraits of Hollywood stars left of the front counter.
Early movie stars on the right side.
Early movie stars on the right side.
Resolution by San Diego City Council honoring Jacqelyn Littlefield Day, owner and operator of the beautiful Spreckels Theatre since 1970.
Resolution by San Diego City Council honoring Jacqelyn Littlefield Day, owner and operator of the beautiful Spreckels Theatre since 1970.
Cool poster from Conan O'Brien's appearance at the Spreckels Theatre during 2015 San Diego Comic-Con.
Cool poster from Conan O’Brien’s appearance at the Spreckels Theatre during 2015 San Diego Comic-Con.
Now we've entered the dark theatre where my camera struggles. Here's an idea of what you will see.
Now we’ve entered the dark theatre where my old camera struggles. Here’s an idea of what you will see.
Balcony seats surrounded by fantastic Baroque elegance.
Balcony seats surrounded by fantastic Baroque elegance.
One of two plaster sculptures by Charles C. Cristadoro, who would go on to work for Walt Disney.
One of two plaster sculptures by Charles C. Cristadoro, who would go on to work for Walt Disney.
Looking out toward some seats from the theatre's stage.
Looking out toward some seats from the theatre’s stage.
A distinctive Spreckels Theatre design at the end of every seat row.
The distinctive Spreckels Theatre design at the end of every seat row.
A quick peek into a modest suite to the side of the stage. A mirror, sink and restroom are reserved for the biggest stars.
A quick peek into a modest suite to the side of the stage. A mirror, sink and restroom are reserved for the biggest stars.
Our group learns some of the fascinating history of one of San Diego's most treasured places.
Our tour group learns some of the fascinating history of one of San Diego’s most treasured places.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

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Fun stage dioramas at Paper Theatre Festival!

An example of a elaborate paper toy theater, a source of family entertainment in the 19th century.
An example of an elaborate paper toy theater, a source of family entertainment in the 19th century.

Today, just for fun, I headed up to the Paper Theatre Festival, which is held every year at UC San Diego.

Upon entering the Seuss Room at the Geisel Library, I couldn’t help smiling. Scattered about the room was a large collection of Victorian stage dioramas, character cut-outs, books and ephemera from the 19th century when paper toy theatre was a popular family entertainment.

All of the colorful artwork exhibited at the festival is part of an immense paper theatre collection assembled over the course of eighteen years by Scott Paulson. I listened to him talk to visitors young and old about his collection, and tried to absorb a bit of this unique art form’s history. I learned how in that bygone age, families would construct these paper theaters from kits, then act out plays with the included scripts and paper doll actors. The entertaining hobby encouraged people to learn about the operation of a real theater, including set design and stage lighting effects.

Walking about the Seuss Room, I bent over to peer into many highly ornate 3-dimensional dioramas. Slots at intervals on the stages allow different paper backdrops–scenery sheets–to be inserted, as you can see from my photos. Paper characters, which are often mounted at the ends of sticks, can be moved about on a stage as a dramatic performance demands.

The festival is geared toward kids, who are encouraged to handle these fun paper playhouses, learn about their history and create their own small dramas. The event continues Sunday and Monday. Click here to learn more!

Paper Theater - It's the smallest show on Earth! Historical amusements are on display at the Paper Theatre Festival at the UC San Diego Library.
Paper Theater – It’s the smallest show on Earth! Historical amusements are on display at the Paper Theatre Festival at the UC San Diego Library.
Objects on display include books, posters and materials to craft paper theaters.
Objects on display include books, posters and materials to create paper theaters.
A mirthful dance of magical characters!
A mirthful dance of magical characters!
A variety of paper toy theaters and related items are on display at the festival.
A variety of paper toy theaters and related items are on display at the annual festival.
A scenery sheet depicting a London street to be used in a play of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.
A scenery sheet depicting a London street to be used in a play of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
Detail from one highly ornate paper stage.
Detail from one ornate paper stage.
These cut-out paper actors include dragons, knights and other fantastic characters.
These cut-out paper actors include dragons, knights and other fantastic characters.
Mr. Jackson's Elizabethan Theatre includes the characters and text for Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Mr. Jackson’s Elizabethan Theatre includes the characters and text for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
An example of a French paper theatre kit.
An example of a French paper theatre kit.
The exhibition includes a crazy MOV-I-GRAFF card. The outline of the face is a fine chain. The face's shape can be altered with a jiggle.
The exhibition includes a crazy MOV-I-GRAFF card. The outline of the face is a fine chain. The face’s shape can be altered with a jiggle.
This stage features a troupe of ballet dancers!
This stage features a troupe of dancers!
Edward Gorey's Dracula, a toy theatre!
Edward Gorey’s Dracula. Classic horror and toy theatre!
Teatro de Mexico. A folk art toy theater.
Teatro de Mexico. A folk art toy theater.
Benjamin Pollock's Toyshop. Hansel and Gretel. A model to cut out and make.
Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop. Hansel and Gretel. A model to cut out and make.
A fun Hansel and Gretel scene made of paper!
A fun, very colorful Hansel and Gretel scene made of paper!

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

You can easily explore Cool San Diego Sights by using the search box on my blog’s sidebar. Or click a tag! There are thousands upon thousands of photos for you to enjoy!

Getting the Starlight Bowl ready for action!

Guys work on an interactive kiosk that will be at the entrance to the renovated Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park!
Guys work on an interactive kiosk that will be at the entrance to the renovated Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park!

I was pleasantly surprised during my walk through Balboa Park today to see progress is being made in renovating the Starlight Bowl!

A couple of super cool guys from Save Starlight were installing an interactive kiosk at the outdoor amphitheater’s entrance. I learned that some events for the outdoor venue are already planned for early this year! How awesome is that?

If you are like me, you might have watched musicals performed in the Starlight Bowl under twinkling stars, before the San Diego Civic Light Opera went bankrupt in 2011. My memories from years ago are still vivid in my mind’s eye. I remember laughing as a young man at the humor of Kiss Me, Kate and The Pirates of Penzance.

I’ve blogged about the effort to save the Starlight Bowl on several occasions, and took a couple of photographs after a new paint job and clean up early last year. I posted those photos on my Beautiful Balboa Park blog here.

If you want to learn more about the Starlight Bowl’s history, challenges, rehabilitation and eventual reopening, visit this website. You can make a donation to help with the effort, or perhaps volunteer!

A performance in the Ford Bowl (now the Starlight Bowl) during the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition in Balboa Park. No known copyright restrictions image from Flickr.
A performance in the Ford Bowl–now the Starlight Bowl–during the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition in Balboa Park. (This no known copyright restrictions image is from Flickr.)
Save Starlight is making great progress bringing the famous and beloved Starlight Bowl back to life!
Save Starlight is making great progress bringing the famous and beloved Starlight Bowl back to life!

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

You can easily explore Cool San Diego Sights by using the search box on my blog’s sidebar. Or click a tag! There are thousands upon thousands of photos for you to enjoy!

La Jolla Playhouse enlivens Horton Plaza Park!

Someone in downtown San Diego peers through a spy hole into a tiny red house in Horton Plaza Park.
Someone in downtown San Diego’s Horton Plaza Park peers through a spy hole into a tiny Model Home.

The La Jolla Playhouse has invaded Horton Plaza Park! Several red houses have been placed inside the downtown San Diego park, and inside these tiny houses professional actors and actresses perform. A public audience can freely watch through spy holes!

Model Home is the name of this improvisational performance art concept, and anyone can check it out through Sunday. It’s a part of the La Jolla Playhouse’s annual Without Walls Festival which this year takes place in venues around downtown.

The genius behind Model Home is Mimi Lien, and I believe the idea is to inspire thought about what makes a home, and about those things in a home that individuals deem to be important.

A home is like an enclosed stage where humans act out much of their lives. As one nearby sign says, houses aren’t just structures, but contain human identity, memory and experience. Peering through the various spy holes in these Model Homes is like secretly peering into the mind of another person. It’s an inner life that the observer can never truly know.

I spoke to a couple of friendly La Jolla Playhouse folks and learned the actors and actresses inside the houses perform all day long, with periodic breaks. They are aware that eyeballs are staring in at them, but as trained acting professionals they aren’t fazed at all.

I also learned that at certain times the tiny house that is dangling from a crane is swung around through the air in a Crane Ballet! Perhaps I’ll “swing” by again this weekend and “crane” my neck at what must certainly be an unusual sight!

If you’re in downtown this weekend, you really should check it out!

Inside one tiny house I see an actor in a small kitchen baking bread!
Inside one tiny house I saw an actor in a small kitchen baking bread!
Model Home, in downtown San Diego's Horton Plaza Park, is part of the La Jolla Playhouse Without Walls WOW festival!
Model Home, in downtown San Diego’s Horton Plaza Park, is part of the La Jolla Playhouse Without Walls WOW festival! (Click image to enlarge.)
Several plain red houses stand in Horton Plaza Park--and one is dangling high in the sky from a crane!
Several tiny red houses stand in Horton Plaza Park–and one is dangling high in the sky from a crane!
People pause to read a sign that describes some very unique and thought-provoking performance art that can be enjoyed freely by anyone passing by.
People pause to read a sign that describes some very unique and thought-provoking performance art that can be enjoyed freely by anyone passing by.
Peering through one of the spy holes...
Peering through one of the spy holes…
Inside this very bare Model Home someone sleeps in apparent poverty. But every small set and performance is open for the viewer's own interpretation.
Inside this very bare Model Home an actor seemed to be sleeping in poverty. But every small “stage” and improvised performance invites the viewer’s personal interpretation.
Inside another Model Home are the remains of a birthday party. I'm guessing the kids went outside to play...
Inside another Model Home were the abandoned remnants of a birthday party. I didn’t see an actor. (Perhaps the kids ran outside to play…)
And inside this Model Home an actress is studying a feather, holding it up and turning it in the light. She seems to be quietly thinking.
And inside this Model Home an actress was studying a feather, holding it up and turning it about in the soft light. She seemed to be quietly thinking.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

Super fan is first in line for Conan at Comic-Con!

This super fan is the very first in line for the Conan O'Brien show at 2017 San Diego Comic-Con!
This super fan is the very first in line for the Conan O’Brien show at 2017 San Diego Comic-Con!

A line has already started next to the Spreckels Theatre. That’s where Conan O’Brien will treat audiences to his unique humor later this week. The Conan talk show on TBS is returning to Comic-Con once again! Get ready for ConanCon in San Diego!

Who is the first in line? A super fan! She smiled for my camera!

Conan's show on TBS will be staged inside the Spreckels Theatre July 19-22.
Conan’s funny talk show on TBS will be staged inside the Spreckels Theatre July 19-22.
Here on First Avenue next to the Spreckels Theatre is where a huge line will grow. Team Coco ticket pick up!
Here on First Avenue next to the Spreckels Theatre is where a huge line will grow. Team Coco ticket pick up!
This guy had to settle for first in line at a Conan bus stop on Broadway!
This guy had to settle for first in line at a Conan bus stop on Broadway!

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

Life takes form in a new Ion Theatre mural.

Ion Theatre artist Kate Schott paints a cool mural on a wall in Hillcrest.
Ion Theatre artist Kate Schott paints a cool mural on a wall in Hillcrest.

A mural is being painted on a wall next to the entrance of the Ion Theatre in Hillcrest. I first saw the new artwork a few days ago, so I snapped several photos. Today I swung by again after work to see what progress had been made.

By comparing photos, you can get a glimpse of the creative process. Kate Schott, the muralist, is a multi-talented Ion Theatre artist who is bringing this cool vision to life.

I hope to swing by on a later day to see the finished work! I’ll post photos!

A few days later, a human figure in the mural is coming to life. I look forward to seeing the finished work!
A few days later, a human figure in the mural is coming to life. I look forward to seeing the finished work!

UPDATE!

On June 7th I walked by the Ion Theatre again. More painting has been completed! The mural is gradually coming to life!

A second figure has been painted in the growing forest of green trees.
Detail has been added to the first figure. And a second figure has now been painted in the forest of green trees.
A third figure on the left side of the developing mural. Many colors outline the sitting figure of a woman.
A third figure on the left side of the developing mural. Many colors outline the form of a sitting woman.
I don't know what this is. We'll have to find out!
I don’t know what this is. We’ll have to wait a little longer and find out!
Finally, a face has emerged in the lower right corner of the Ion Theatre mural!
Finally, a singing face has emerged in the lower right corner of the new Ion Theatre mural!

ANOTHER UPDATE!

I took this photo on June 19:

The left side of the new Ion Theatre mural is taking form!
The left side of the new Ion Theatre mural is taking form!

FINAL UPDATE!

The mural is finished! Here are a few elements that have come to life:

Declaration of Independence on a wall, altered to condemn instances where power is abused.
Declaration of Independence on a wall, altered to condemn instances where power is abused.
A seeing eye in hand.
A seeing eye in hand.
Standing across water from a fiery skyline.
Standing across water from a fiery skyline.
Lady Liberty shines light from atop a piano keyboard. Ignite.
Lady Liberty shines light from atop a piano keyboard. Ignite.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

Photos behind the scenes at Copley Symphony Hall!

Old photograph in lobby of Symphony Towers shows the old downtown Fox Theatre, today's surprising home of the San Diego Symphony.
Photograph in lobby of Symphony Towers shows the old downtown Fox Theatre, today’s surprising home of the San Diego Symphony.

Today I enjoyed a behind-the-scenes tour of Copley Symphony Hall, home of the San Diego Symphony. The tour was part of the big OPEN HOUSE 2017 event that is being staged this weekend by the San Diego Architectural Foundation. An amazing 47 buildings featuring diverse architectural styles are being showcased around downtown, from Bankers Hill to Barrio Logan.

Copley Symphony Hall was originally built as the Fox Theatre in 1929, an excellent example of the famous chain of Fox movie palaces. Highly ornate Gothic Revival touches can be seen in the preserved lobby and inside the opulent theatre itself. Should you stand outside on the city street today, all you’d see is a tall skyscraper: Symphony Towers. The modern 34-story skyscraper was built literally over and around the historic Fox Theatre in 1989!

Stepping into Copley Symphony Hall is like being suddenly transported back in time. Take a look at some photos and read the captions for more info!

Visitors check out historical photos of the Fox Theatre movie palace on a wall near the San Diego Symphony box office.
Visitors check out historical photos of the Fox Theatre movie palace on a wall near the San Diego Symphony box office.
Guide from the San Diego Symphony provides some background before a behind-the-scenes tour of Copley Symphony Hall.
Guide from the San Diego Symphony provides some background before a behind-the-scenes tour of Copley Symphony Hall.
How the Fox Theatre appeared almost a century ago. A modern 34-story skyscraper, Symphony Towers, was built around it in 1989. The building's parking levels are directly above the theatre!
How the Fox Theatre appeared almost a century ago. A modern 34-story skyscraper, Symphony Towers, was built around it in 1989. The new building’s parking levels were constructed directly above the old theatre!
The Fox Theatre was the most elegant place to enjoy culture in San Diego for decades. Countless concerts, shows and movies have been enjoyed here by many generations.
The Fox Theatre was the most elegant place to enjoy culture in San Diego for decades. Countless concerts, shows and movies have been enjoyed here by many generations.
Our tour group has entered the theatre's elegant main lobby. Movie executive William Fox created a chain of opulent theaters in the 1920s. They featured many styles of dazzling ornamentation. At one time this was a working fountain!
Our tour group has entered the theatre’s main lobby. Movie executive William Fox developed a popular chain of theaters in the 1920s. They featured many styles of dazzling ornamentation. At one time this was a working fountain!
I learned the central face above the old fountain represents William Fox himself. Fox was born in Hungary and his parents emigrated to America. He eventually created a vast entertainment empire.
I learned the central face above the old fountain represents William Fox himself. Fox was born in Hungary and his parents emigrated to America. He eventually created a vast entertainment empire.
A look at one amazing corner of the dramatic ceiling.
A look at one amazing corner of the lobby’s dramatic ceiling.
The elegant main lobby of Copley Symphony Hall in San Diego.
The elegant main lobby of Copley Symphony Hall in San Diego.
A bust at one end of the main lobby is of the beloved German composer Beethoven.
A bust at one end of the main lobby is of the beloved German composer Beethoven.
We step into Symphony Hall to see what few see. We will file down through the empty theatre and through a door that connects to backstage.
We step through a door to see what few see. We will file down through the empty theatre and through another door that connects to backstage.
Heading toward backstage. I believe those stairs lead up to the rear stage door on Eighth Avenue.
Heading toward backstage. I believe those stairs lead up to the rear stage door on Eighth Avenue.
Behind the scenes! All sorts of interesting equipment could be glimpsed in the darkness behind the stage.
Behind the scenes! All sorts of interesting equipment could be glimpsed in the darkness behind the stage.
I believe I see a xylophone tucked in this closet-like space!
I believe I see a xylophone tucked in this closet-like space!
Through that rather ordinary-looking door is the San Diego Symphony's elegant stage! Beautiful music requires hard work done by those who toil unseen.
Through that rather unimpressive door is the San Diego Symphony’s elegant stage! Beautiful music requires hard work done by those who toil unseen.
This is part of a comfortable rest area behind the stage for the San Diego Symphony musicians. Visiting entertainers also enjoy the peace and moments of relaxation.
This is part of a comfortable rest area behind the stage for San Diego Symphony musicians. Visiting entertainers also enjoy an opportunity for relaxation.
We've left backstage and are heading up some stairs to Copley Symphony Hall's upper level, whose entrance is on hilly Seventh Avenue.
We’ve left backstage and are heading up some stairs to Copley Symphony Hall’s upper level, whose entrance is on hilly Seventh Avenue.
Some rather fancy decorative artwork can be seen above the doorway that leads to Aisle 5.
Some rather fancy decorative artwork can be seen above the doorway that leads to Aisle 5.
The interior of the theatre was too dark for my old camera to capture many good photographs. After listening to a brief organ concert, our tour group prepares to exit Copley Symphony Hall's upper seating level.
The interior of the theatre was too dark for my old camera to capture many good photos. After listening to a brief organ concert, our tour group prepares to exit Copley Symphony Hall’s upper seating level.
One of several smaller chandeliers in the spectacular ceiling.
One of several smaller chandeliers in the spectacular ceiling.
The huge, resplendent central chandelier and those around it can be lowered on cables. This is helpful when about a thousand light bulbs need replacement! In the olden days, dancing girls performed for the audience from atop this chandelier!
The huge, resplendent central chandelier and those around it can be lowered on cables. This is helpful when a thousand light bulbs need replacement! In the olden days, dancing girls performed for the audience from atop this chandelier!
One last glimpse. Some fun detail near the ceiling of the historic Fox Theatre, now home to the San Diego Symphony.
One last glimpse. Some fun detail near the ceiling of the historic Fox Theatre, now home to the world-class San Diego Symphony.

I live in downtown San Diego and love to walk around with my camera! You can follow Cool San Diego Sights via Facebook or Twitter!

You can easily explore Cool San Diego Sights by using the search box on my blog’s sidebar. Or click a tag! There are thousands upon thousands of fun photos for you to share and enjoy!