Balboa Theatre

854 4th Avenue,
San Diego, CA 92101

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Showing 26 - 49 of 49 comments

kencmcintyre on July 19, 2007 at 5:02 pm

This is from the LA Times dated 3/24/27:


The new Balboa Theater, located on one of the most important corners in San Diego, will open its doors to the public tomorrow evening. Officials of West Coast Theaters, under whose banner the theater will be operated, will attend the opening in a body. Arrangements have been made to escort the players in “Lillies of the Field” to San Diego also. This picture will be the initial photoplay to be flashed on the theater’s screen.

JayAllenSanford on June 22, 2007 at 1:13 am

There’s a cover article in today’s San Diego Reader, detailing the histories of all the downtown theaters once run by Vince Miranda, at one time co-owner of California’s Pussycat Theatre chain. The final days of the Balboa, including details on how the city stole the building, are well covered, right up to the day the keys were turned over to city reps, who then left the building to rot for 20 years. The article is built from a series of email interviews with Cinema Treasures contribs Dan Whitehead and Tim David (David is Miranda’s godson). Unfortunately, the online version doesn’t have any of the great photos and graphics seen in the printed version – I wrote the piece and will probably put scans of the graphics on my own webpage before much longer, after the next issue comes out. Here’s a link to the article on the Reader site:

View link

This is our second major feature on southern CA theaters in about a year (the other, “Field Of Screens,” is just on San Diego drive-ins and can be found on the Reader site with the search bar). If anyone here likes the article(s) and would like to encourage the publisher to greenlight more, feel free to leave your thoughts about the piece in the comment section after article. The paper really pays attention to reader comments!

SPK on June 2, 2007 at 7:51 am

Balboa update:
All phases of the Balboa are coming together very rapidly, now. The scaffolding is down and decorative finishes are being completed. The exterior was “bubble wrapped” and blasted to restore the exterior finishes. The original marque will be replicated, the domed entry restored, etched glass doors copied. Even the beautiful murals in the lounge will be copied. It is going to be spectacular.

The man on the scene that is making this all happen is Gary Bosse, Senior Project Manager for Centre City Development Corp. He’s the man and will probably, never get the recognition that he deserves. This is my little tribute and thank you.
Steve Karo

hippenro on March 6, 2007 at 12:40 pm

To Steve Karo, Dan Whitehead and others: Thanks for helping to save the Balboa Theater in downtown San Diego! I have created a virtual Balboa Theater at my virtual San Diego site (Diegoland) on the Second Life Website:

I hope you enjoy it!
Robert Hippen

SPK on September 7, 2006 at 8:53 am

For those wishing to keep informed of the Balboa’s progress, you can now go to the “horse’s mouth”.
The following is the Centre City Development Corp.’s own web page devoted to the progress of the Balboa. Pidgeons, broken windows, open windows are irrelevant. Barricades have been up and restoration has been obvious and ongoing for some time. Re-opening is slated for Dec. 2007.
Weslake, Reed & Leskowsky are nationally known and tops in the field of historic restoration. The Balboa’s restoration is fully funded, planning, demolition and seismic retrofit are already completed. Restoration is in it’s final phase as you can see by the CCDC photos. Check it out for yourself:
View link

Steve Karo

BrooklynJim on August 12, 2006 at 7:00 am

Made my last trip downtown (for now) during the week and observed that the Balboa’s exterior looks worse than ever, plus more broken windows. Other windows have been left wide open and are now used by cooping pigeons.

There’s a large hanging banner naming Westlake, Reed & Leskowsky as the architects and engineers. I’m really hoping WR&L can pull the rabbit out of the magic hat on this one by 2007.

BrooklynJim on July 14, 2006 at 11:14 am

Restoration continues at a snail’s pace, although it’s difficult to tell how far along workers are in the interior. The outside wooden barricade that has been erected around the base of the Balboa now announces a re-opening date of 2007. (Frankly, I doubt it.) The Gaslamp down the block is the plush theater of choice in the meantime, but do avoid the closer one in Horton Plaza (with its garish MTV architecture). The sound system is bottom of the barrel.

BrooklynJim on June 18, 2006 at 12:25 pm

Restoration work appears exceedingly slow, at least on the exterior. I pass by almost weekly, only to see broken windows, peeling paint, bas relief figures in disrepair or vandalized. Date given for re-opening is 2008.

segask on June 15, 2006 at 6:38 pm

how many cinema subwoofers will it have?

segask on June 13, 2006 at 7:17 pm

any chance that an occasional film will screen in there?

SPK on April 10, 2006 at 1:18 pm

I have a few corrections and comments about the Balboa Theatre.

1-The theatre was acquired by the City of San Diego in 1986 not to restore it but to gut it. It was a prolonged battle to keep that from happening.

2-The original construction cost was $800,000 (not $1.5 mil).

3-The original seating capacity was 1534.

Yes, I remember the cedar lined room in the basement which was a remnant from a furrier or cleaner, I believe. It is gone along with everything else in the building, as the restoration continues.

To Dan Whitehead:

You will always be one of the unsung heros of the Balboa. You allowed me to do my dog and pony show in the theatre many times, against the wishes of your employer (Walnut Properties) and the City of San Diego. Best regards to you, always!

The construction bids for the final phase of the Balboa’s restoration have just been opened and with a little luck the theatre will reopen in the fall of 2007. The major portion of demolition and seismic retrofit is now complete. Excellent management is already in place to operate the theatre. It’s happening and will be spectacular when completed.

Steve Karo

kencmcintyre on October 18, 2005 at 4:23 pm

From the UCLA Digital Archive:

View link

dougbruton on August 28, 2005 at 11:22 am

I am really glad to hear the Balboa is going to be restored. I was stationed in San Diego from 1957-59 and went there many times..A great place to watch a film, but the movie I remember most was South Pacific. Great picture, sound ….very enjoyable experience. I hope to ba able to make a visit back there one day
Doug Bruton Denison, Texas

marqueza on July 25, 2005 at 6:37 pm

Latest news! The long-planned restoration officially began today with a completion date now set at 2007.

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Today marks a new beginning for a decades-old downtown theater

By Preston Turegano

July 25, 2005


[i]Fences and trash bins attest to preparations for the long-awaited renovation
of the Balboa Theatre, which officially begins today.[/i]

About 20 years ago, Steve Karo bought a ticket to get inside the Balboa Theatre â€" then a downtown San Diego movie house â€" and see the place up close.

At the time, Karo, a percussionist and admirer of old theaters, was reeling from the demolition of the 70-year-old, 400-seat Lyceum Theatre on F Street between Third and Fourth avenues.

“I loved that theater,” said Karo, who had performed in the Lyceum’s orchestra pit. “It still sickens me that we lost it, and we weren’t about to lose another if I could help it.”

Relegated to the role of X-rated movie theater, the old Lyceum was demolished to make way for the Horton Plaza parking garage. On the Fourth Avenue side of the 1985 retail project (at E Street) was the Balboa Theatre. Some advocates of progress wanted it torn down, too.

“What was being said in an effort to destroy the Balboa wasn’t accurate, so I got my flashlight, went to the Balboa and nosed around,” Karo said. “I was amazed at what I saw.”

Karo’s observations resulted in his organization of Save Our Balboa. Later, Karo and others formed the nonprofit Balboa Theatre Foundation, which handles funds associated with Balboa preservation efforts. In 1996, Karo and his wife, Mary, also helped steer the nomination of the Balboa to the National Register of Historic Places.

Today â€" after years of talks and unsuccessful bids to bring new life to the now 81-year-old theater â€" city officials will finally break ground for restoration of the former vaudeville venue.

“The Balboa Theatre is truly a jewel of downtown and Centre City Development Corp. is excited about overseeing its restoration,” said CCDC president Peter Hall. “When complete, San Diego will have preserved an important piece of local history and created a beautiful new theater.”

Once the $18.9-million rebuild is done in 2007, the city will have a new midsize â€" 1,300-seat â€" performance space available to arts groups and other organizations.

The San Diego Chamber Orchestra, California Ballet, Classic for Kids, La Jolla Music Society, San Diego Master Chorale, Christian Community Theater, Young Audiences of San Diego, and Art Productions have expressed interest in using the Balboa, according to Don Telford, president and chief operating officer of San Diego Theatres Inc. (the nonprofit corporation that manages the San Diego Civic Theatre and which will provide similar services for the Balboa).

Several smaller theater organizations are also potential users.

“There are a number of ‘homeless’ theater companies that are always searching for venues, and downtown is popular,” said Stephanie Casenza, executive director of the San Diego Performing Arts League.

Joe Kobryner, general manager of Broadway/San Diego, said Broadway/San Diego and its parent company, the Nederlander Producing Company of America, also might present shows at the new venue.

“Recently there has been an increase in the number of shows from Broadway and Off-Broadway that may tour and utilize smaller theaters, so we are exploring these opportunities,” Kobryner said.

Equally enthusiastic about the restoration is John Santuccio, executive director of the San Diego Chamber Orchestra. The ensemble has been using three small venues â€" St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, Sherwood Auditorium and the Fairbanks Ranch Country Club â€" for its six-concert seasons. The Balboa will be the organization’s downtown site. The country club and Sherwood in La Jolla will still be used, Santuccio said.

“It’s the acoustics at the Balboa that I’m excited about,” Santuccio said. “That makes all the difference for an orchestra. I just hope we can afford the rental rates.”

As a result of meetings with officials of San Diego Theatres Inc., Santuccio said daily rent for the Balboa may be about $3,000 (by comparison, Copley Symphony Hall rents for approximately $2,500, or 10 percent of gross ticket sales, whichever is greater).

Kay Porter, president of the Balboa Theatre Foundation, said the foundation wants to establish an endowment fund â€" an amount to be determined â€" that would spin off enough interest to cover the cost of some Balboa Theatre rental nights for certain nonprofit groups.

CCDC acquired the Balboa through eminent domain in 1985. Over the years, several private proposals to turn the theater into a museum, a cabaret, a bookstore and a Jimmy Buffett-themed concert hall were considered, but none of the ideas were economically sound. In October 2002, CCDC decided to renovate the theater itself.

During its lifetime, the Balboa has been used for live performances (vaudeville and plays), as a place for military personnel to sleep during World War II, and as a movie theater.

Originally scaled to 1,534-seats, the renovated Balboa will have fewer seats, but larger and wider than those installed in 1924. Much of the renovation will consist of tearing out electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems, and installing new replacements. Earthquake-retrofitting and modifications to accommodate the disabled also will be added.

“It’s going to be wondrously beautiful,” said Karo.

Preston Turegano: (619) 293-1357;

Suwanti on May 28, 2005 at 9:37 am

The grand old lady can be restored to its original usage is admired by cinema reseacher like me in Hong Kong.Hong Kong don’t have any old theatre remains nowadays.
What a good news!
Raymond Lo/29th May,2005

marqueza on February 1, 2005 at 11:29 am

Unfortunately the Balboa is still closed (for any kind of theatrical or projection business) as of this posting. No $16M renovation nor 2003 reopening ever took place. But the UNION-TRIBUNE article below projects its reopening in 2007.

While the Balboa Theatre Foundation website,, seems to be offline today, apparently the Foundation will conduct a tour by appointment:

View link

View link

A downtown icon awaits a multimillion-dollar restoration
By Jonathan Heller

January 28, 2005

SCOTT LINNETT / Union-Tribune

The Balboa Theatre is in surprisingly good shape, considering it is 81 years old and has been shuttered for 20 years, said an architect helping the city of San Diego restore it.

The city’s downtown redevelopment agency is getting ready to start major reconstruction of the former vaudeville theater and movie house.

“This theater was lucky enough to be built in San Diego, rather than in an area with more temperature and humidity extremes,” said Paul Westlake, a Phoenix-based architect specializing in historic restorations.

Westlake and redevelopment officials did a walk-through yesterday in preparation for starting construction.

Westlake is helping the Centre City Development Corp. begin the $15.9 million project, which is expected to be finished in 2007.

The agency acquired the once-opulent theater next to Horton Plaza through eminent domain in 1985 and considered several private proposals to turn it into a museum, a cabaret, a huge bookstore and even a Jimmy Buffet-themed concert hall, but none of the ideas penciled out economically, said Eli Sanchez, a project manager with the agency.

In October 2002, the Centre City Development Corp. decided to renovate the theater itself and let nonprofit community groups host shows there.

“We’ve gone through a discovery phase with the building,” said Gary Bosse, senior project manager for the development corporation.

Westlake has renovated a small section of wall over the balcony with the original colors â€" brilliant reds, lavenders, greens and golds, among other shades.

The bulk of the job will be tearing out the building’s innards â€" electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems â€" and installing modern replacements. The building will need earthquake-retrofitting and modifications to accommodate the disabled.

“The guts of the whole thing will be new,” Westlake said. “What’s surviving is the historic shell and ornamental finishes.”

The 1,500 original seats will be replaced with 1,300 larger and wider ones, Westlake said. People are generally taller, and in many cases heavier, than was typical when the theater was built in 1924, he said.

The special fountains on either side of the stage will be returned to working order, and the original chandeliers will be restored, Bosse said.

The hall has superior acoustics thanks to its cube shape and perforated ceilings, meaning it can be used for non-amplified and amplified music, said Don Telford, chief operating officer for San Diego Theatres, which will manage the Balboa once it opens.

The theater’s heyday was in the mid-1920s through the 1930s. It fell into decline during World War II and at one point was used as a place for sailors to sleep temporarily. It mostly showed movies and offered few live performances when it closed in 1985, before Horton Plaza opened.

At 1,300 seats, the Balboa will occupy its own niche among downtown’s theaters, which include the 700-seat Lyceum Theatre, 2,200-seat Symphony Hall and 3,000-seat Civic Theatre.

tbdavid on January 12, 2005 at 10:03 am

Hello from Colorado!
My God Father owned Walnut properties and The Pussycat Chain.He owned and loved this building at one time. I am putting together a collection of ANY memorabilia befor all is lost. If you have any information..please let me know.

Tim David


Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 29, 2004 at 5:02 am

It might be of interest to some that the architect of this theatre, William H. Wheeler, was also the architect of the very theatrical 5500 seat Angelus Temple, built in 1923 in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles, for the notorious radio Evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. There were few who understood show business as well as did Sister Aimee. She chose her architect well.

trooperboots on December 29, 2004 at 3:09 am

There are ornamental “niches” on either side of the screen area that feature waterfall mountain scenes. I understand these actually worked with real water when the theater was first built.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on December 13, 2004 at 3:09 pm

The opening date of the Balboa Theatre was 28th March 1924 and cost $1.5m to build. Architect William Wheeler designed a Spanish Baroque styled movie theatre that had working waterfalls on either side of the proscenium and a theatre pipe organ to accompany silent films. The seating capacity was for 1,800.

The Balboa Theatre closed on 6th April 1986.

William on November 12, 2003 at 5:44 pm

The Balboa Theatre is located at 854 4th Ave.

cyclonebob on February 1, 2003 at 1:54 pm

what is the address of this theater

BHousos on March 16, 2002 at 10:27 pm

This imitation palacio was designed to honor the Spanish heritage of San Diego and came complete with Balboa in tile on the front sidewalk. Inside, a tapestry effect was used for the plaster side bays of the auditorium. In the 1920s the usherettes were dressed as bullfighters. The Balboa’s beautiful tile dome, is set four stories above the entry. Architect was William Wheeler.