Spreckels Organ and Pavilion
This is the largest outdoor Organ in the world, as of 2016. It was built by the Austin Organ Company of Hartford, Connecticut and is capable of playing the full range of Organ masterworks. Installed in Balboa Park for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, the Organ and Pavilion were a $100,000 gift to the people of San Diego from John D. Spreckels (1853-1926) and Adolph B. Spreckels (1857-1924).
Los Angeles architect Harrison Albright (1866-1932) designed the Organ housing and surrounding Pavilion in an Italian-Renaissance style that stands apart from the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture of other Exposition buildings. Some design features reflect the special requirements of an outdoor instrument. An oversized attic provides insulation and the 20,000 pound roll-down steel door seals and safeguards the Organ when not in use. Practical design elements are softened by an elaborately filigreed arch, decorative finials, integral nighttime lighting and musically symbolic ornamentations of trumpeting angels and the mythical piping Pan. Corinthian colonnades partially encircle the 2,300 open seats.
The stage was enlarged and a foundation added to the Pavilion for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. The Organ has undergone many repairs, renovations and a full restoration in the 1980s.
The earliest performances in the Pavilion were organized by the Panama-California Expositions Civic Music Committee led by Gertrude Gilbert (1871-1947). Free weekly public concerts by a Civic Organist are today presented through a cooperative partnership between the City of San Diego and the Spreckels Organ Society, founded in 1988. An international Summer Organ Festival brings the world’s most accomplished organists to San Diego. The pavilion hosts numerous other musical performances and is a prominent civic gathering place.
During World War I, sailors assigned to the Naval Training Station in Balboa Park and the general public enjoyed Organ music with Sunday morning services at the Pavilion. The U.S. Navy used the Pavilion as a dispensary, dental clinic and for lectures and movies during its World War II occupation of Balboa Park. Specialist First Class Robert D. Smith gave weekly Organ recitals for the troops.