Structure Type: built works - performing arts structures - theatres

Designers: Hebbard and Gill, Architects (firm); Irving John Gill (architect); William Sterling Hebbard Sr. (architect)

Dates: constructed 1904-1905

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1029 4th Avenue
Core District, San Diego, CA 92101

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Any theatre that so strongly resembled Louis Sullivan's remarkable Transportation Building at the World's Columbian Exposition should have been cherished. Unfortunately, San Diegans tired of this magnificent homage only about 20 years after its completion.

Building History

Architect Irving Gill (1870-1936) produced this theatre for owner Louis J. Wilde (1865–1924) in 1905. Wilde, who came to San Diego in 1903, was a banker, real estate developer and later Mayor of San Diego between 1917-1921; he won a celebrated mayoral race against civic leader and department store owner George Marston (1850-1946). Interestingly, both men were clients of Irving Gill. For Wilde, Gill designed it as a literal homage to his former boss Louis Sullivan's Transportation Building at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. A stunningly simple, yet ornate design, it retained the concatenated blind arch design made famous at the White City. It also retained the three rectilinear bands of Sullivanesque ornamentation drawn from the Sullivan's masterpiece. Gill's San Diego building even copied the squiggle details.

Constuction of the Pickwick began on 06/17/1904. According to the Los Angeles Herald: "Excavation was begun today for the foundation of the new Pickwick theater in this city. The playhouse will be modern in every respect and of Mission architecture. It will adjoin the Methodist church on Fourth street and will be owned by Louis J. Wilde." (See "Begin New Playhouse," Los Angeles Herald, vol. XXXI, no. 263, 06/18/1904, p. 9.) Unless the design changed after 1904, which is conceivable, the theatre as built was not in the Mission Revival Style.

Building Notes

The Pickwick Theatre was a small mid-sized theatre, with seating for 825. The Palmer Brothers were the theatre's lessees in 1906, with S.A. Palmer serving as its manager. The Palmers were sued by the theatre's owner in 1909, according to theLos Angeles Herald: "Mrs. Florence Zahn of Los Angeles, leaser of the Pickwick theater here, has filed suit to dispossess Palmer Bros., present managers. She alleges they have never rendered her an accounting of receipts and disbursements. This Pickwick is a stock house." (See "Sues Theater Management," Los Angeles Herald, vol. 36, no. 195, 04/14/1909, p. 8.)

The venue began as a live-action playhouse, but by 1922, it switched to a primary fare of motion pictures. (See Cinema "Pickwick Theater," accessed 05/15/2018.) According to the Coronado Eagle and Journal newspaper, the menu of entertainment switched to movies and vaudeville in 1924: "It will be of interest to persons visiting through the holidays of summer vacation period in and around San Diego to know that the Pacific Southwest Theatres Incorporated has changed the policy of the Pickwick Theatre there and in the future the theatre will be a combination house showing vaudeville and feature Paramount pictures. The theatre has been made more than usually attractive with new curtains and drops and system of unique lighting." (See "Pickwick Opens as Vaudeville House," Coronado Eagle and Journal, vol. XIII, no. 5, 06/07/1924, p. 1.)


The Pickwick Theatre lasted only twenty years, being razed in San Diego's Downtown real estate boom c. 1925.

PCAD id: 19143