Theatre History in the Nineteenth Century
The first recorded theatrical performances in San Diego were in 1858 at the San Diego Mission. United States soldiers of Company D, Third Artillery, commanded by a Major Blake brought the theater to town with a season of six popular plays of the period, plus a world premiere: “The Smiths and the Browns of San Diego,” a comedy set in the Franklin House in Old Town. Soldiers’ wives and local women took the female parts. The organization formed by the men of Company D was called The American Dramatic Club. Between April 19 and June 2, 1858, this group produced The Lady of Lyons, The Idiot Witness, and The Death of Rollo.
Thomas Whaley was a hard-headed New England storekeeper who brought to San Diego its first real taste of professional theatre. On November 1, 1868, he leased the second floor of his house and the use of the corral to Thomas W. Tanner for $20 in gold coin, allowing him to take down, in the second story, twelve feet of studding, commencing at the east brick wall of the house, for the purpose of making an exhibition room, and a portion of the east end railing of the balcony for the purpose of erecting stairs thereto, for theatrical productions. A stage was assembled in one end of the front bedroom of the Whaley House. Benches for 150 were crammed into the room and the Tanner Troupe presented the first professional shows in San Diego, a family singing and dancing revue. Tanner died just days after the opening and the troupe disbanded after only two performances.
Most of the 19th-century entertainment in San Diego occurred at four downtown theaters:
Horton Hall(1869) SE corner of Sixth & F; San Diego’s first theater building
… history of Horton Hall
Leach’s Opera House(1884) NE corner of First and D streets; became D Street Theater 1890; demolished 1900
… history of Leach’s Opera House
Louis’ Opera House(1887) E side of Fifth Street between B and C streets; later Fifth Street Theater, Grand Theater, San Diego Theater
… history of Louis’ Opera House
Fisher Opera House(1892) 4th between B and C Sts; later Isis, Colonial
… history of the Fisher Opera House
Other occasionally used halls in the 19th century were used mostly for local talent:
Avon (1887) or Mayrhoffer’s Beer Hall at the southeast corner of Fifth and G
Assembly Hall (1871) also called Garland Hall or Armory Hall
Bank Exchange Hall (1876) had plays and variety shows in Spanish
Berker’s Hall (1887)
Lafayette Hall (1883) location unknown
Loomis Hall (1888) built as skating rink, used as theatre for 3 years, showed Pawnee Medicine Show and Bushnell’s Dog Act
The Franklyn House (1869) hotel used for variety shows in 1870
The Magnolia Saloon (1867) had a brief run of variety shows in 1868
The Standard (1887) west side of Sixth Street between H and I streets, a variety house; became legitimate theatre in 1890 under Harry McGuire and James Tennbrook.
Turnverein Hall / Turner Hall (1873) Eighth Street between G and H (Market) streets
Unity Hall, Sixth Street between C and D (Broadway) streets
TWENTIETH CENTURY THEATRES
Academy (1925) University at 38th
Adams (1935) 3325 Adams Ave.
Airdome (July 26, 1910) NW corner of Broadway and Third Ave, outdoors, gone by 1911
Alhambra (1912), 815 Fifth Ave., gone by 1919
Auditorium Grand Ave. at Lime, Escondido; until 1919
Avalon (1928) 1919 India; Rex; Civic 1938.
Avo (1948) East Vista Way, Vista
Avo Theater 1956 “Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon – My Sister Eileen”
*Aztec Theater (Bancroft Building) SE corner Fifth and G; this 500-seat theatre was built in 1905 as a meat market and entered the show business in 1919 under the grandiose name “California Theatre”. Became Fox Aztec 1930-1935.
Aztec Theater 1930 “Shipmates”, “Footlights & Fools”
Balance and Yule (1912) 1530 E St., gone by 1913
Balboa Park Bowl (1935 as Ford Bowl) now home of Starlight Theater
*Balboa Theatre (Apr 28, 1924) SW corner 4th and E Streets
…history of the Balboa Theatre
Bay (1944) National City
Broadway Theatre (1915) 815 Broadway
Broadway Theatre Paramount Pictures sign across street
Bush (1920) 301-321 C Street; Pacific National 1933
Cabrillo (1914) 2171-75 Logan Ave; Logan Heights Theater (1917); Metro (1935)
Metro Theatre 1935
*California Theatre (Apr 22, 1927) 4th and C; Fox California Theatre; California Theatre
… history of the California Theatre
Campus Drive-In Theatre (1947) 6165 El Cajon Blvd.; demolished 1983
Neon Majorette in her original location
Carlsbad (1927) Carlsbad
*Carteri Theatre (1925) 3681 Adams Ave
Carteri Theatre designed by Louis Gill
*Casino Theatre (1913) 643-647 Fifth Ave
Casino Theatre & Casino Cafe; Ralph Bellamy on marquee
Civic Auditorium (1920) 3,000-seats; built for Panama-California Exposition as Southern California Counties Building, site of present Natural History Museum Balboa Park; destroyed by fire Nov. 25, 1925, on day of Fireman’s Ball.
Southern California Counties Building 1915
*Civic Theater (1965) 3rd & B on Civic Concourse; 3000 seats; designed by Lloyd Ruocco
Civic Theater exterior, aerial view of downtown & bay
Colonial Theater [see Fisher Opera House]
Coronet (1943) 1796 Logan
*Cove (1948) 7730 Girard Avenue, La Jolla; about 500 seats; remodeled in 1963
Cove in 1977 “Paul Newman / Slap Shot”
Crystal (1914) 630 E St., gone by 1915
Davis (1927) 8125 Lookout Ave, La Mesa; La Mesa (1932)
Dream (Aug. 3, 1911) 755 Fifth Ave; U.S. Theatre 1926-1930
*Egyptian 3812 Park near University; Bush Egyptian; Fox Egyptian 1931; Capri 1954; later Park. As the Capri, the theater was converted to Todd-AO with multi-channel sound to screen “Around the World in 80 Days” in 1957.
Fox Egyptian Theatre Gary Cooper & Lupe Velez in “The Wolf Song,” 1930
Fox Egyptian Theatre promotes gas range giveaways
El Cajon Main Street, El Cajon 1925-1930
El Cajon Magnolia Ave, El Cajon 1929-1938
Elysium 2nd 3 w. of Tremont Oceanside until 1925
Empire (1905 as Rudwin) NW corner Fourth and F; Demolished 1911
Fairmont Theatre (1928) Fairmont & University; later Crest
Fairmont Theatre Corinne Griffith in “The Divine Lady” on marquee
Fairmont Theatre interior rear, ceiling
Fairmont Theatre interior, wall panels
*Fox Theatre (1929) 710 B Street (now Copley Symphony Hall)
Fox Theatre exterior, opening day 11/8/1929
Fox Theatre interior, ceiling and proscenium
Fox Theatre exterior, overview
Fox Theatre interior, concession stand at Easter
Fox Theatre “Marie Dressler and Polly Moran” on Marquee August, 1930
Gaeity (see Lyceum) (1909) NE corner F Street and Third Ave.; Gone by 1913
Garden (1912), west side of Sixth Avenue between B and C, gone by 1913
Garrick Theatre (1907) 6th and B Sts; later Empress, Strand; Demolished 1923
…history of the Garrick Theatre
*Hillcrest (1913) 3825 Fifth Ave; closed in 1917; reopened in the ’30s by Fox chain; Renamed Guild in ’50s; adult films in the ’70s, run by Landmark 1978; remodeled for retail 2002.
Hillcrest Theater 1955 “Crazyhorse”
Illusion Theatre 1249 Fifth; Kinema 1920
Isis Theatre [see Fisher Opera House]
Jewel (1910), 665 Fifth Ave., gone by 1917
*Ken 4061 Adams Ave
Ken Theater 1991 “Boyz N The Hood”
Kinema (1921) 207 E. Grand, Escondido; Pala; bowling alley 1938
Kinema Theatre 1931 “Millionaire – George Arliss, Noah Beery”
La Mesa Opera House (1917) Lookout Ave.
La Mesa 104 E. Lookout Ave., 123 W. Lookout. Ave, 8125 Lookout (also Davis)
La Mesa Opera House (1917) Lookout Ave.
*La Paloma (1928) 485 First St., Encinitas; During silent-movie era, La Paloma had a pipe organ.
La Paloma Laurel & Hardy, street scene, 1929
Logan Heights (Logan) 2171 Logan; Southside 1934; Metro 1935
*Loma Theatre (1944) 1188 seats; on Rosecrans; now bookstore
Loma Theatre 1976 photo
*Lomaland outdoor Greek theater & indoor theater; Theosophical Institute, Pont Loma
…history of theater at Lomaland
Lyceum (May 5, 1913) 314-316 F St; Later Gaeity (1914), Little (1914), Ballein’s (1915), Gaeity again (1915), Lyceum again (1919); Liberty (1924); Hollywood; Off-Broadway; Pussycat; Cabaret; Lyceum again.
Liberty Theater female dancers outside theater; “Lyceum” on tile floor
Lyceum Theater 1980
*Margo Theater (Nov 26, 1936) 200 block of Brooks Street in Oceanside (now N. Coast Highway); Towne Theater (1948); Sunshine Brooks Theater (2001) is now a 214-seat live performance venue for community-based performing arts.
Metro Theater Edward G. Robinson, “The Last Gangster”
Midway Drive-in Theatre (1947) 3901 Midway Drive; San Diego’s first drive-in theater closed in 1980.
Mission Theatre (1939 as Queen) 1237-1245 Fifth Ave, 5th and B Streets; later Illusion, Kinema; demolished 1969.
Mission Theatre Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, “Sunny Side Up” on Marquee; Orpheum (formerly Pantages) at right
Mission Theatre (1948) 231 N. Main, Fallbrook; New Mission
Mirror Theatre (see Superba) SE corner of 3rd and C Streets
National Theatre National City
Ocean (1914) 5049 Newport Ave., Ocean Beach
Old Globe Theatre
Old Globe Theatre 1941
Orient (1913) 7877 Girard St, La Jolla ; Garden 1920; Granada 1925
Granada Theatre 1930 “Harry Langdon, Norma Shearer in The Divorcee”
Orpheum Theatre 5th and B Streets [See Pantages Theatre]
Pacific Square Theatre where Big Bands played
Pacific Square Theatre Glenn Miller on marquee June, 1941
Palace (1913), 401 E St.
Palomar (1925?), 314 N. Hill St., Oceanside
Palm 827 Palm, Imperial Beach
Palm Theatre “Desert Hawk, Young Daniel Boone”
Panama (1913), 516 Fifth Ave., gone by 1914
Pantages Theatre (1924) Fifth and B Street;
…history of the Pantages Theatre
*Park (1925) 3810-12 Park Blvd, Hillcrest; opened as Egyptian; Bush Egyptian; Fox Egyptian 1931; Capri 1954; later Park.
Parisian (1914), 629 F St., gone by 1915
Pastime (1914), 632 Market St., gone by 1916
Pickwick Theatre 1029 4th; East side of Fourth Avenue between Broadway and C Street; designed by Hebbard and Gill; opened 1904-5; 825 seats; demolished in 1926
Plaza Theatre (April 13, 1913) 323 Plaza, S side Horton Plaza; later Owl; demolished 1982 for new Horton Plaza
Plaza Theatre 1918
Plaza Theatre 1917 “America’s Answer, How Charley Captured the Kaiser”
Princess (1910) 1134 Fourth Ave.; Gone by 1916
Princess Escondido; until 1920
Queen (1909) 1245 Fifth Ave. Later Illusion (1911), Kinema (1919)
*Ramona Theatre (1922) 3018 University at 30th; later New Ramona.
Rialto Theatre 1136-40 Fourth; 1921-1926; demolished in 1920s.
Rialto Theatre 1923 “Ponjola”
Rivoli Theatre (1923) 656 Fifth; later Diana, Savoy, Bijou
Rivoli Theatre “Anna Bos: Carmen of the North; Charles Chaplin: A Night Out”
Ritz Theatre 313 E. Grand Ave., Escondido; later Bijou
Roxy Theatre 4642 Cass Street, Pacific Beach
Roxy Theatre 1947 “Woman on the Beach: Robert Ryan, Joan Bennett; Glennn Ford in Framed”
Rudwin Theatre (1923) Fourth and F
Savoy Theatre 236 C Street (NW corner 3rd and C)
…history of the Savoy Theatre
Seville (1927) 388 Third Avenue, Chula Vista
Silvergate (1928) 1122 4th, corner C
*Spreckels Theatre Broadway between 1st and 2nd
…history of the Spreckels Theatre
Star (1908) NE corner, Broadway and Fourth Avenue
Star (1916) 1109 Orange Ave, Coronado; gone by 1918
*Strand Theatre 4948-52 Newport Ave, Ocean Beach; Opened 1926 or 1929
Strand Theatre December, 1928
Stratford Open Air Theatre (1917) Del Mar
Superba Theatre (Aug. 28, 1911) opened as Mirror; SE corner of 3rd and C Streets; next to Grant Hotel; Later Majestic (1914), Grant (1914), Superba (1915); demolished in 1930s.
as Mirror Theatre
Superba Theatre Tom Mix on Marquee
Union (1909 as Electridom) 735-759 Fifth Ave.; still open 1918
Victory 2558 Imperial Ave; 1920-1932; New Victory 1934
Victory Theatre Negro picketers, 1945
*Village (1948) 820 Orange Ave., Coronado
*Vista Theatre 4053 University
Vista Theatre 1930s
*Vogue (1945) 226 Third Ave., Chula Vista
Yorick Theatre (1923) Former U.S. Fisheries Building, Park Blvd., Balboa Park; Condemned in 1928
* Building still standing, not necessarily operating.
This list of San Diego theaters was compiled from:
1. articles in the San Diego Union Tribune, including several from 1999 by Welton Jones.
2. excerpts from a Thesis Presented to the Faculty of San Diego State College by Morgan Jackson Lane, June 1969, entitled “Commercial Theatre in San Diego with Special Emphasis 1892-1917”.
With few exceptions, the above list is limited to theaters opened before 1950.
Return to Photograph Collection.
Order prints of these and many other images from the Photo Archives of the San Diego History Center. These photographs have excellent detail which cannot be fully appreciated on the computer screen.