Balboa Theatre

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Balboa Theatre
Balboa Theatre, San Diego 01.jpg
Address 868 Fourth Avenue
San Diego, California
United States
Owner City of San Diego
Operator San Diego Theatres
Capacity 1,339
Current use performing arts venue
Opened 1924
Reopened 2008
Architect Wheeler, William H.; Wurster Construction Co. et al.

Balboa Theatre
Balboa Theatre is located in San Diego County, California
Balboa Theatre
Balboa Theatre is located in California
Balboa Theatre
Balboa Theatre is located in USA
Balboa Theatre
Coordinates 32°42′50″N 117°9′38″W / 32.71389°N 117.16056°W / 32.71389; -117.16056Coordinates: 32°42′50″N 117°9′38″W / 32.71389°N 117.16056°W / 32.71389; -117.16056
Architectural style Mission/Spanish Revival
NRHP Reference # 96001177 [1]
SDHL # 77
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 24, 1996
Designated SDHL August 4, 1972[2]

The Balboa Theatre was built in 1924 and is a grand 1920s vaudeville/movie palace with a seating capacity of 1,534. As part of the Fox West Coast circuit, the Balboa featured live vaudeville and movies, accompanied by orchestra and organ. An article from the American Theatre Organ Society states that Edward Swan was the organist at the Balboa Theatre in 1925-26 and he claims that the original 4/26 Robert Morton organ was the finest he had ever played. It had an echo organ over the balcony. He, “played the features while the small orchestra did the vaudeville segments. Sometimes Ed also played the organ or piano with the orchestra and his playing time lengthened to 10 or 12 hours a day.” In 1930 the theatre went through an upgrade with neon signage and upgraded projection equipment and became a Spanish language theatre, but it did not last very long. The theater’s office space was converted to housing for the U.S. Navy during World War II.

The Balboa languished as a movie house and in 1959 was purchased by the Russo family. Because of its rich history and splendid architecture the Balboa was designated as a local historic site in 1972. Although the 1973 Horton Plaza Redevelopment Plan called for complete restoration as a theatre, the City of San Diego instead condemned it with plans by the Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC) to gut it for commercial space. It involved stripping the interior and building four floors of retail space. A small group of advocates for saving the theatre, Save Our Balboa, was formed in early 1985, led by Steve Karo, to lobby against destruction and to support restoration. The Save Our Balboa group garnered public support and eventually prevailed in its long and hard fought effort to stop destruction of the theatre. Eventually Save Our Balboa developed into the Balboa Theatre Foundation which continued lobbying for restoration and in 1996, succeeded in listing the Balboa Theatre on the National Register of Historic Places. After twenty years, CCDC did a turnaround and decided to fund a complete restoration which began in 2005. They not only funded, at a cost of $26.5 million, but superbly managed the project. The theater re-opened in 2008 and is now an excellent venue for live theater and concerts.

In 2009, after extensive renovation, the Balboa Theatre Foundation rededicated a 1929 Wonder Morton organ, one of only four such organs in the world. The Foundation purchased, restored and relocated the organ from Pennsylvania to the Balboa Theatre after a five-year-long restoration. The original Robert Morton organ was moved to the Fox Theatre in 1929, which is now Copley Symphony Hall. [3]


  1. ^ Staff (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ "Historical Landmarks Designated by the San Diego Historical Resources Board" (PDF). City of San Diego. 
  3. ^ Hebert, James (August 2, 2009). "Balboa Theatre's restored organ returns to action". San Diego Union Tribune. Retrieved 23 March 2013. 

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