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Balboa Theatre

This may just be the year we see our longest and most neglected sites preserved and restored. The restoration and reuse of the Balboa Theater is in this group of longest awaited and anticipated preservation projects in San Diego. We are happy to report that this preservation project has begun and that Centre City Development Corporation has bellied up to the bar and taken on this most important task. We are finally sure it will be completed after many past aborted efforts. Formal restoration will begin in March of this year and be completed by 2007 It is planned to be a Performing arts venue and community space.

The Balboa Theatre at 868 4th Avenue in Downtown was San Diego's first significant live-performance venue. Named for the Spanish explorer Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, the first European to discover the Pacific Ocean in 1513, the theatre thrived from its opening on March 28, 1924 through 1930, when it hosted nationally recognized vaudeville acts, including the Sunkist Beauties and Fanchon & Marco, who performed on opening night. Some of the biggest movie stars of the time also appeared at the theatre, making it the centerpiece of local culture and entertainment.

The 1,534-seat theatre was built for $800,000 by the Balboa Building Company, with William Wheeler serving as the design architect. The theatre's interior reflects 1920s design sensibilities, blending Mediterranean Classicism with Moorish and Spanish Revival styles. One of Balboa Theatre's unique features was its two elevated, recessed waterfalls flanking either side of the proscenium opening. The auditorium chamber was described as a "glittering jewel box," because of the substantial use of gold metallic wall paint. The ceiling includes ornate and gilded plaster grillwork that funnels sound throughout the building. One of the theatre's unique performance-related design features is an oversized orchestra pit that can accommodate 30 to 40 pieces with easy access. Due to the theatre's design and finishes, it possesses excellent acoustical qualities for live, nonamplified performances.

In 1930, the theatre was renamed El Teatro Balboa and underwent a modest renovation that enhanced the Spanish Revival architecture features and added a neon marquee. El Teatro Balboa showed Spanish-language cinema and stage show up until the early 1940s, when the U.S. Navy appropriated the space to muster sailors during the buildup to WWII. The theatre was almost demolished in 1959 to accommodate a parking lot, but was spared by Russo Enterprises, which bought the building and operated it as an action-movie venue.

The City of San Diego designated the theatre as a historic site in 1972, and in 1985, the Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC), the City's redevelopment agency, acquired the property by eminent domain. Two years later, the Balboa Theatre was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. After numerous efforts over the past 18 years to privately renovate and reopen the Balboa Theatre, CCDC has committed to retaining this venue as a public asset and will restore it using the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings.

The Balboa Theatre will reopen as a performing-arts venue designed to house diverse programs of local, national and international performances, presentations and community, corporate and convention gatherings.

2005 - Volume 36, Issue 1

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2476 San Diego Avenue · San Diego CA 92110 · Phone (619) 297-9327
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