The Spreckels Theatre has been in almost continuous operation since its official opening on August 23, 1912. It was commissioned by sugar magnate John D. Spreckels to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal for the Pan American Exposition held in San Diego in 1915.

The theatre then seated 1,915 people to honor the year of the Exhibition. The architect was Los Angeles based Harrison Albright. When the theatre was built, just after the San Francisco earthquake, it was designed to be earthquake proof and fireproof, and outfitted to provide the ultimate in mechanical equipment for heating and ventilation. When completed, San Diego’s premier theatre was the largest of its kind west of New York City, and declared to be acoustically perfect. It was inaugurated with rave reviews for its beauty, architectural design, stage mechanics and as a perfect setting for the shows that played its large stage. It was the first poured concrete theatre and office structure west of the Mississippi River. At its premiere, a national theatre magazine called The Spreckels Theatre “one of the most beautiful theatres in the world.”

Restorations & Renovations

  • Entrance, Tiffany Window, Skylight 1912

    Harrison Albright designed the theatre’s décor in the baroque style. Allegorical paintings by Emil Mazy of Los Angeles decorated the proscenium and the ceiling. The large painted mural over the stage depicted two angels sprinkling a horn of plenty and the ancient sea god Neptune Bringing San Diego the Riches of the Pacific Ocean. A large central illuminated medallion in the theatre’s ceiling depicted Dawn. The four smaller medallions featured motifs of Air, Water, Fire, and Earth. Above the box seats were poised two large allegorical group sculptures by Charles C. Cristadoro (who later worked for Walt Disney) in their own illuminated niches.

  • The Grand Lobby 1912

    The walls, ceiling, and stairs in the stately two story Grand Lobby were faced in Predora onyx. There is a large translucent onyx set of panels that acts as a skylight, allowing in the sunlight to filter into the lobby during the day. as well as lights behind the onyx columns. Originally in 1912, the stained glass window featured on the wall above the theatre entrance doors was designed and crafted by the Tiffany Studios. It was a classical Greek scene of “Nine Dancing Muses”. Due to civil defense blackout regulations during World War II, the Tiffany window was taken down and stored in the basement of the theatre in sections. The crated panels mysteriously disappeared from their storage locker sometime during the late 1940s. A large framed burlap-covered corkboard remained in that place to display posters for years to follow. In 1985 the missing window was finally replaced with Yaakov Agam’s beautiful new window design commissioned in 1983 by theatre President, Jacquelyn Littlefield. Even by today’s engineering standards, The Spreckels Theatre Building was deemed a marvel of design, meeting 85 percent of the current state of the art design standards. The elegant auditorium was completely open without any pillars or columns obstructing the sightlines. Servicing for the backstage was outstanding. It was designed to drive trucks onto the stage through large double doors on either side from two streets to unload baggage, sets, lights, and hanging stock. This unique feature allowed a production of Ben Hur in 1923 to stage the horse drawn chariot race. This left delighted audiences wild eyed and spellbound. They watched the teams of horses thundering through the double stage doors from 1st Street, galloping across the stage and out the opposite door on 2nd Street, careening around the back of the theatre, and skidding back in through the 1st Street doors again, and again.