854 Fourth Avenue,
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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.
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