Historic Structures

Spreckels Theater Building, San Diego California

Date added: April 13, 2016 Categories: California Theater Commercial Office Classic Revival

The Spreckels building and theatre was built by sugar magnate John D. Spreckels for prominent theatre manager, Jack Dodge, to manage. Mr. Spreckels felt that San Diego needed a legitimate theatre in addition to a boosting of the economy and employment. He also felt strongly that San Diego should develop south of Broadway to the Bay and eventually built seven (the Spreckels was #3) on the south side of Broadway.

Opening night of the theatre was the most notable occasion in the City's history. Many prominent people from Los Angeles and San Francisco attended as well as the social elite from San Diego. The Broadway musical "Bought and Paid For" was brought 4,000 miles to the opening with many of the original Broadway cast appearing.

During the first year, the Orpheum vaudeville circuit passed through the theatre. "Ben Hur" (complete with a horse drawn chariot race that extended through the First Avenue doors, galloped across the huge stage and exited via Second Avenue doors) was the first year finale.

The list is extensive of the famous persons who appeared at the Spreckels Theatre during those early years before motion pictures took over the theatre. A few of the prominent people are: Will Rogers, Bel a Lugosi, Anna Pavlova, Joe E. Brown, Al Jolson, Ronald Coleman, Ina Claire, William Powell, Enrico Caruso, Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore, and John Barrymore.

Construction was begun in 1911 and the theatre was opened to the public August 1912. The lavish theatre and modern office building were constructed at a cost of $1 million.

The Spreckels estate owned this building until 1943 when it was purchased by the Star and Crescent Investment Co., Capt. Oakley J. Hall, President, for $500,000. In 196**, Mrs. Jacquel in Metzer Shlaes Littlefield (daughter of ex-Universal Studios head Louis Metzer, who had been managing the theatre) bought the building for $1,650,000 and spent $125,000 remodeling the theatre.

In August 1931, to advertise moving pictures, a new marquee costing $50,000 was installed. At the time, It was the largest and most costly on the West Coast.

New wide-range sound equipment for motion pictures, first major installation of its kind in San Diego, was installed in the Spreckels Theatre in July 1933.

When Mrs. Ltttlefield purchased the building, the theatre was put through a restoration costing $125,000. All wall, cornices, parapets and moldings were repainted to their original form - gold was dry brushed over a mushroom-hued base to accent the third dimension. Only those art treasures in the dome have gone unpainted. New seats replaced the old and were more generously spaced - from 1915 to 1500. Restoration was made by Wilfred and Russell Chartler of the Chartier Painting Co., George Lykos, architect, and Edwin V. Harris, general contractor. In 1976, Mrs. Littlefield removed motion picture capabilities and launched a legitimate theatre schedule, returning the Spreckels to its original use.