Early San Diego Theaters


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 LyonsThe 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


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

Ford Bowl

*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 Theatre S side of Horton Plaza; demolished 1982 for new Horton Plaza

Cabrillo Theatre 1918

Cabrillo Theatre 1938, demolished 1982

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

Creole Palace Market at 3rd St

Creole Palace building exterior, Hotel Douglas

Creole Palace Milton Rousseau’s “Harlem After Dark”

Davis (1927) 8125 Lookout Ave, La Mesa; La Mesa (1932)

Dream (Aug. 3, 1911) 755 Fifth Ave; U.S. Theatre 1926-1930

Dream Theater

*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

Helix Theatre 7966 La Mesa Blvd.; information taken from the 1966 City Directory

*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”

Hollywood Theater 316 F Street [See Lyceum Theatre]

Hollywood Theater marquee “Jan Cafara”, Bozo Lord, Eddie Lyle, Danny OHara

Hollywood Theater cast posing on stage, 1940

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 Theatre

Metro Theater Edward G. Robinson, “The Last Gangster”

Midget Village Theatre 1936 California Pacific Exposition, Balboa Park

Midget Village midget actors with bus

Midget Village stage

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

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

National Theatre

*North Park Theatre (1929) 2895 University Ave.; Fox North Park 1932

North Park Theatre “The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu”

North Park Theatre Ronald Colman, Kay Francis on Marquee

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.

Ramona Theatre

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

*Silver Strand Theatre opened 1917; 1142 Orange Ave, Coronado

Silver Strand Theatre exterior, c. 1918

Silver Strand Theatre stage

Silver Strand Theatre Leo West at left, creating scenery

*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

State Theatre 4730 El Cajon Blvd at Euclid

State Theatre exterior

State Theatre interior c. 1940; 1012 seats

State Theatre interior, concession stand “Happy Easter”

*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.

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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.