AKA: Spreckels Office Building and Theater, Downtown, San Diego, CA; Spreckels's Office Building and Theatre, Downtown, San Diego, CA

Structure Type: built works - performing arts structures - theatres

Designers: Albright, Harrison, Architect (firm); Harrison Albright (architect)

Dates: constructed 1910-1912

6 stories, total floor area: 108,000 sq. ft.

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121 Broadway
Downtown, San Diego, CA US 92101-5006

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The Los Angeles Times reported in its 11/14/1909 edition: "Harrison Albright is preparing preliminary plans for a six-story reinforced concrete theater and office building which John D. Spreckels proposes to erect at Second and D streets in San Diego. The building plan hinges on certain arrangements which are now being consummated." (See "The Architects,"Los Angeles Times, 11/14/1909, pt. V, p. 21.)

Building History

For many a real estate investor from 1910-1930, a combined office block and movie theatre proved to be a safe investment. Sugar magnate John D. Spreckels (1853-1926), left San Francisco just after its terrible earthquake of 1906, and resettled in what he thought would be the more seismically secure city of San Diego. In 1910, he commissioned architect Harrison Albright (1866-1932) to design a six-floor office block, within which was situated a large theatre, completed by 08/23/1912, capable of hosting live theatrical and vaudeville shows and movies; in the early years, the facility was managed by the Dodge and Hayward theatrical organization; it lost money, and had to be subsidized by its owner Spreckels. Between 1915 and 1921, the Hippodrome vaudeville circuit staged its shows in the Spreckels Theatre, and its name was added to a new theatre marquee at that time. In 1922, motion pictures became the main entertainment staple of the Spreckels Theatre, and were exhibited here until 1978, when the primary use reverted to hosting live shows; originally, the seating capacity was set at 1,915, to honor the 1915 San Diego Panama-Pacific Exposition (itself held to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal); theatre historian David Naylor, in his American Picture Palaces The Architecture of Fantasy, (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1981, p. 216), put the number of seats at 1,850. Later renovations reduced the seating to 1,466 seats. Live music shows continued to be presented here in the 1930s; actress and singer Judy Garland (1922-1969), for example, appeared here 04/12/1934-04/18/1934.

Building Notes

A construction contract was signed on 11/15/1910; work probably began soon thereafter. (See "Spreckels Theatre History,"Accessed 05/14/2013.)

In 1927, a significant number of real estate firms, engineers, building contractors and architects leased office spaces in the Spreckels Theatre Building, including the Wurster Construction Company (Room #231), D.G. Malcolm, Architect, (Room #271), R.W. Snyder, Architect, (Room #307), E.M. Hoffman, Architect, (Room #408), Hanssen and Swearingen, Architect, (Room #469), A.J. Hamilton, Architect, (Room #475), J.S. Groves, Architect, (Room #501), W.H. Wheeler, Architect, (Room #501), Lincoln Rogers, Architect (Room #533), T.C. Kistner and Company, Architects, (Room #537), Quayle Brothers, Architects, (Room #601), F. W. Stevenson, Architect, (Room #645) and John and Donald Parkinson, Architects, (Room #665).


Alterations occurred in 1922 with the addition of motion picture exhibition equipment; sound equipment for talkies would have been installed in c. 1930. During World War II, the interior was painted a gray color to camouflage the building from enemy planes. In 1978-1979, a full-scale restoration removed the grey paint and revealed an obscured lobby skylight and the boarded-up original box office, which hadn't been used in about 37 years. A stained glass Tiffany window once stood above the theatre's entryway; this had been removed, put in a crate, and then stolen. To replace it, the Israeli Op artist, Yaakov Agam (b. 1928), was commissioned to produce a replacement. A new glass wall was put in to enclose the lobby, which was originally open to the outside. Since its opening in 1912, the Spreckels Theatre had four movie marquees, the last from 1937. This existing 1937 iteration was set to be renovated in 2012.

San Diego Historical Landmark (1972-08-04): 76

National Register of Historic Places (May 28, 1975): 75000467 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 2688