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Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Spreckels Organ Pavillion, opening day, 1915, Balboa Park, San Diego, California

"A NOTEWORTHY CONTRIBUTION"--By Thomas Shess--By 1910, John Dietrich Spreckels, (the eldest son of sugar company magnate Claus Spreckels) was fully immersed in San Diego’s enthusiasm for the Panama- California Exposition set to open in 1915.

Editor’s note: “A Noteworthy Contribution,” was part of 18-month series published in San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles magazine that led up to San Diego’s Balboa Park’s Panama-California Expo centennial in 2015.  This segment, published in the December 2013 edition, received a First Place Award for Outstanding Journalism by the San Diego Press Club.  It is the second year in a row the top award was presented to series author Tom Shess.

He wanted the city to be shown in its best light and recognized that the expo would be good for business. Among his holdings were the San Diego Union newspaper, Hotel del Coronado and San Diego Electric Railway. John reportedly offered to fund an organ pavilion and underwrite exposition costs should the venture fall on its face in exchange for the city’s park commission locating the expo at what is now Balboa Park and allowing his railroad to lay tracks through the center of the park from downtown to Hillcrest and North Park.

After the commission approved the deal in October 1913, John commissioned Harrison Albright to design the pavilion for $66,500 and Austin Organ Co. of Hartford, Conn., to build the organ, named Opus 453, for $33,500. He also paid the pavilion’s first organist, Humphrey Stewart, through 1917.       

Dedicated on Dec. 31, 1914, the organ had 3,400 pipes, ranging from the size of a pencil to 32 feet long. In 2002, the organ was expanded to 4,530 pipes.

Many expo architects railed at Albright’s ornate Italian Renaissance design instead of the more daring Spanish Colonial Revival designs of the expo’s lead architect, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue.

Now, almost 100 years later, the organ and its pavilion remain one of the icons of the San Diego social and cultural fabric. There have been six civic organists. The current holder of that position, Carol Williams, is the only woman civic organist in the country. She continues the tradition of free weekly concerts on Sunday afternoons at 2 p.m.

In August 2013, the Organ Pavilion received its latest update: the addition of Wi-Fi.

Credit: Image courtesy of the San Diego History Center via San Diego Home/Gardens Lifestyles Magazine.

Additional research for this article was provided by San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles intern Jinell VanCorbach while she was a journalism student at Pt. Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.

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