Spreckels Organ Pavilion

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For the organ in San Francisco, see Spreckels Organ.

Coordinates: 32°43′46″N 117°09′02″W / 32.729391°N 117.150452°W / 32.729391; -117.150452

The pavilion Sunday at a 2pm Concert with Carol Williams December 2013. You can see in the background the Nativity scene displays in the small green sheds.

Spreckels Organ Pavilion, is a pavilion in San Diego, California that houses the open-air Spreckels Organ located in Balboa Park. The Spreckels Organ is the world's largest outdoor pipe organ.[citation needed] Constructed for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, it is located at the corner of President's Way and Pan American Road East in the park.

Spreckels open-air Organ[edit]

December 31, 1914 John D. Spreckels presented to the people of San Diego, and to all the world a one of a kind, concert outdoor pipe organ capable of playing the full range of musical masterworks. To uplift, enrich and inspire the human spirit through performances of great music. The instrument's powerful voices could be heard from a distance of 3 miles! The Spreckels Organ Pavilion seats over 2,400 and located in the center of the metropolitan city. Futuristic for its time, the greatly ornamented main building containing the organ, meeting and dressing rooms, is flanked by curved Grecian style colonnades illuminated by 1400 embedded lights. At night the facility resembles a fantasy land of wonderment and awe. The organ itself weighs nearly 100,000 pounds and is protected by a 20,000 pound roll down steel door which seals the instrument from the outside elements when not in use. Wind power for its 4,518 pipes is provided by a 20 HP blower located in the basement. The Organ was built by Austin Organs, Inc. as their Opus #453. It has 73 ranks totaling 4518 pipes and faces north. The audience therefore faces south. Commercial airplane landings at San Diego's Lindbergh Field occasionally compete with the organ's sound.[1]

Civic Organists of San Diego[edit]

  • Humphrey John Stewart 1914-1932
  • Royal Albert brown 1932-1954
  • Charles Rollins Shatto 1954-1957
  • Douglas Ian Duncan 1957-1978
  • Jared Jacobson 1978-1984
  • Robert Plimpton 1984-2001[2]
  • Carol Williams 2001–present[3][4]

Organ Curators[edit]

  • Edward Crome 1914 (Installer)
  • Anton Rokos 1914-1916 (Curator & Installer)
  • Roy W. Tolchard 1916-1932
  • Edwin A. Spencer 1932-1947
  • Leonard L. Dowling 1947-1974
  • Lyle Blackinton 1974–present[1]
The pavilion on a Monday Summer International Organ Festival evening concert

Organ Concerts[edit]

Free organ concerts are given each Sunday at 2 p.m., sponsored by San Diego Parks and Recreation Department, the Spreckels Organ Society[5] and private donations. On Monday evenings in the summer The Spreckels Summer International Organ Festival is also presented by the Spreckels Organ Society.

Other Uses[edit]

The Civic Organist and the Organ can be hired to perform for a special occasion at the pavilion.

  • During the summer on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays "Twilight in the Park" provide mixed popular concerts.
  • In December the Community Christmas Center Committee places a Nativity scene display at the back of the pavilion, with other secular and non-Christian religious symbols also placed nearby.
  • Graduations, political events, memorials, weddings, choral and instrumental concerts and dance performances.
  • The annual December Nights celebration is performed on the Spreckels stage.[6]
  • The Pavilion is a popular place for photographers.


John D. Spreckels, son of sugar magnate Claus Spreckels, decided to move to Coronado, California after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. He became one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in San Diego County.

Spreckels' gifts to San Diego and Coronado were many. He particularly wanted the Panama-California Exposition to succeed and show San Diego to the world in a good light, so he contributed to and promoted the Exposition.

He and his brother Adolph B. Spreckels gave the organ pavilion as a gift to "the people of San Diego" and "the people of all the world".[7] They donated $33,500 for the Organ and $66,500 for the Pavilion. John D. Spreckels also donated the services of organ tuner Dr. Humphrey J. Stewart for the two-year run of the Exposition. After the Exposition Spreckels extended Stewart's contract.

Spreckels chose Harrison Albright to design the Organ Pavilion. Albright was a self-taught Los Angeles architect, who previously designed the U. S. Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego. The semi-circular pavilion was built in an ornate Italian-Renaissance design. The organ was dedicated December 31, 1914. When Spreckels died in 1926, the pavilion was used for his memorial service.[8]

During the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition the stage size was doubled and a fountain added. The fountain can be lit at night and is modeled after one in Chapultepec Park in Mexico City. In 1981 the pavilion was restored and in 2002 the organ was expanded from 3,400 to 4,518 pipes.

See also[edit]


  • Christman, Florence (1985). The Romance of Balboa Park (4th ed.). San Diego: San Diego Historical Society. ISBN 0-91874-003-7. 

External links[edit]