Balboa Theatre

854 Fourth Avenue,
San Diego, CA 92101

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Balboa Theatre exterior

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The Balboa Theatre is located in the heart of San Diego’s downtown, next to Horton Plaza. It opened for vaudeville and movies on March 28, 1924 in a Spanish Revival style. Originally with a seating capacity of 1,534, with about 500 of those seats in the balcony, it was San Diego’s first big downtown movie theatre. There were ornamental niches on both sides of the proscenium arch which featured waterfall mountain scenes and originally used real water (and do so again with the recent restoration). A Robert Morton theatre organ was installed, but was moved in 1929 to the Fox Theatre (now Symphony Hall) in San Diego, where it remains.

The Balboa Theatre closed in 1986. In that year, it was purchased by the city of San Diego, which planned to reuse it for non-entertainment use and at one point considered gutting it. Many helped to save it, with Steve Karo as the preservation hero who worked hard to convince people of the potential of the former movie palace.

The San Diego Council voted to finance the restoration of the historic Balboa. Westlake, Reed & Leskowsky were the restoration architects. After 3.5 years of a $26.5 million renovation, the theatre had a gala opening January 19, 2008, as a venue for theatre, concerts, and other live performances. There are now 1,300 seats. The original marquee was replicated and the domed entry was restored.

The Robert Morton 4 Manual / 23 Rank ‘Wonder’ organ, one of only five manufactured, originally installed in 1929 in Loew’s Valencia Theatre, Queens, New York, was installed and restored at a cost of one million dollars in 2008. It made its debut performance at the Balbao Theatre in February 2009.

The Balboa Theatre was added to the local Register of Historical Places in 1972, and to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

Contributed by Ross Melnick, Howard B. Haas

Recent comments (view all 79 comments)

danwhitehead1
danwhitehead1 on November 11, 2008 at 4:56 pm

I was just watching some clips from San Diego On-Line. Some folks are still insisting that the waterfalls are part of the air conditioning system. You know what? I defy anyone to demonstrate just exactly how those waterfalls are in any way connected to either one of the two huge fans that are in the building. There’s one in the basement that pushes air into the auditorium and there’s another in the dome that pulls it out. Neither one is connected to either waterfall in any way. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong. I also notice that Steve Karo, who started the Save Our Balboa in the first place is never mentioned once.

monika
monika on May 26, 2009 at 4:07 pm

LM, it is so nice to see older pictures when the theatre wasn’t encompassed by Horton Plaza.

Here is a photo of the Balboa I took earlier this month:
View link

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on July 18, 2009 at 11:33 am

Here is a January 1974 newspaper ad:
http://tinyurl.com/lopl7n

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on October 29, 2009 at 8:47 am

Closed from 1985, the Balboa Theatre, a movie palace built in 1924 in
downtown San Diego, reopened in January 2008 after a $26.5 million dollar
restoration. See the difference in the “before” photo (from
November/December Preservation magazine of the National Trust for Historic
Preservation) http://www.flickr.com/photos/28011786@N03/
and the photo “after” restoration by Evergreene Architectural Arts of the original paint scheme:
View link

Since reopening, the Balboa has welcomed more than 131, 000 patrons, servingagain as a economic engine and cultural oasis of downtown.

Silicon Sam
Silicon Sam on February 14, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Channel 4 San Diego SD Insider video on the restoration.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=norRLFYjFCQ

SPK
SPK on February 22, 2011 at 11:54 am

The Balboa Theatre has lost another hero.

Leo Schario passed away at the age of 92 last week. He was a wonderful friend and mentor and one of our earliest “Save Our Balboa” crusaders. His theatre knowledge and experience was unsurpassed and he was an instrumental player in our efforts to save the Balboa Theatre from being gutted. In the beginning, it was a very small band of activists that persevered in our efforts to save the Balboa Theatre from destruction. It started with an army of powerful detractors and ended with an army of supporters. Few are aware of what a tremendous struggle it was. Thank you Leo for caring and always being generous with your time, your knowledge, your experience and most of all your friendship. Sincere condolences to your long time friend and partner Hugh Chandler.

Steve Karo

rivest266
rivest266 on April 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm

March 28th, 1924 grand opening ad is in the photo section.

LomaUsher
LomaUsher on March 1, 2014 at 9:44 pm

The WONDERFUL, MAGNIFICENT Balboa! Back in the ‘70’s I remember going to see a double bill there with my dad, of “Blue Max” and “Dirty Dingus McGee.” And just before it closed, I went to see “Purple Rain” there just to have the chance to go into the theatre. I remember looking up at the balcony, which was closed to the public, and seeing these enormous, tall, standing sound baffles, which looked like Easter Island statues looming silently over the auditorium. I could never have guessed that twenty years later I would be standing on that stage singing the role of Valens in Georg Frederick Handel’s oratorio/opera “Theodora” with the Bach Collegium San Diego under the baton of Richard Egar. The Balboa Theatre is one of the finest concert halls on the west coast, and a GREAT SAVE for the people of San Diego. Thanks primarily to Jan Manos, who forced the recalcitrant City’s hand. Well done, Jan, and thank you.

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