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San Diego Civic Theatre

San Diego Civic Theatre

Architects: Lloyd Ruocco, William F. Rosser, Selden B. Kennedy Jr.

First Opened: 12th January 1965 (56 years ago)

Website: sandiegotheatres.org Open website in new window

Telephone: (619) 570-1100 Call (619) 570-1100

Address: 1100 3rd Ave, San Diego, CA 92101 Show address in Google Maps (new window)


The San Diego Civic Theatre opened in early 1965, designed by modernist architect Lloyd Ruocco – one of San Diego’s most influential architects. The Civic is San Diego county’s largest performing arts venue and is home to Broadway in San Diego, San Diego Opera, and the California Ballet.

Featured Photos

Detailed Information

Opening Night, 12th January 1965
Opening Night, 12th January 1965

The Civic has played host to the largest shows and concerts to visit San Diego over the last 50+ years, the tone being set from the outset with a week of celebrations for the theatre’s opening.

Opening night on Tuesday 12th January 1965 was a sell-out concert featuring the San Diego Symphony Orchestra with Metropolitan Opera stars Dorothy Kirsten and Brian Sullivan, the evening being hosted by Morley Golden and J. Dallas Clark.

Opening festivities continued with a production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? starring Kendall Clark and Vicki Cummings on Wednesday, and the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company’s production of H.M.S. Pinafore on Friday.

The Grand Salon’s Bavarian Chandelier
The Grand Salon’s Bavarian Chandelier

The D’Oyly Carte’s appearance (their first performance in San Diego) was hastily arranged after the San Diego Ballet Company had to pull out of their planned performance when their soloist, Maria Tallchief, could not appear due to an operation.

The final night of the opening festivities was a concert given by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and directed by Zubin Mehta.

Despite the ambitious opening festivities, the only snag was that furniture for the lobby and lounges had not arrived in time and so temporary furniture was rented for the theatre’s opening week.

The Grand Salon
The Grand Salon

The focal point of the Front-of-House facilities is the Grand Salon which spans three stories from main floor level to the Balcony. The Grand Salon’s main feature is its large central chandelier. The chandelier is not original, with funds for its purchase having been raised soon after the theatre opened. The chandelier was installed in March 1966, about one year after the theatre’s original opening. It is composed of 52,000 Bavarian crystals and weighs 2,800 pounds, measuring 15ft wide, 8ft wide, and 12ft high.

The Civic theatre was part of the three-block San Diego Civic Center development (now known as Civic Center Plaza with the Charles C. Dail concourse at its center) which was built between 1960 and 1965. The development originally housed City Hall (now the City’s administration building), a convention hall now used as an indoor arena and called Golden Hall (named for Morley H. Golden, at one time known as Mr. San Diego for his community involvements), and the new Civic theatre, described at its opening as “the sparkler in the bright new downtown Concourse”.

The Civic Theatre entrance, on the Charles C. Dail Concourse
The Civic Theatre entrance, on the Charles C. Dail Concourse

The theatre is reported to have cost $4 million and was constructed by the H.M. Golden Construction Company, starting 3rd September 1963.

At the theatre’s opening, just 16 months after construction began, its acoustics were universally praised. The architect team stated that the theatre’s acoustics were afforded the highest priority at the design stage, with the main level Orchestra section being a modified semi-circle and the mezzanine and balcony being chevron-shaped “because it was acoustically best [for each area]”. In the auditorium, carpet was only provided in the aisles – not in each row of seats – to assist with the acoustic response.

The Civic Theatre Auditorium
The Civic Theatre Auditorium

The theatre features 37 “steel clouds” suspended from the ceiling, which are sound reflectors composed of quarter-inch thick exposed steel plates.

The theatre’s décor was originally described as “muted bronze and gold”, and modernist sculptures adorned the auditorium sidewalls – they have since been removed.

Auditorium from Stage
Auditorium from Stage

The main floor (Orchestra) level seating is in continental style whereby there is no central aisle, however provision was made for removable seats to temporarily add additional aisles, a feature which has been used by productions such as Disney’s The Lion King.

The theatre is owned by the City of San Diego Link opens in new window and operated by the nonprofit San Diego Theatres Link opens in new window on behalf of the community.

Notable performers to have graced the Civic Theatre’s stage include Tony Bennett, David Byrne, Bob Dylan, Renee Fleming, Carole King, Patti LaBelle, Jerry Lewis, Conan O’Brien, Diana Ross, Jerry Seinfeld, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Dame Joan Sutherland, Luther Vandross, and Robin Williams.

The theatre has hosted movie world premieres including Cowboys and Aliens (2011) Link opens in new window.

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Further Reading

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Technical Information

Flying System
System Type
Single Purchase counterweight system operated from Stage Right at Stage level
Additional Linesets
3 wire guide linesets at 19ft 5in (5.9m), 47ft 11in (14.6m), and 50ft 5in (15.4m) – all 400lbs (181kg) max. One dedicated lineset per side for lighting ladders.
Batten Length
70ft (21.3m)
Grid Height
81ft (24.7m)
Linesets
64 linesets with 5 lift lines per set, loading capacity generally 1,600lbs (726kg) per set
Loading Bridge #1 (Fly Floor)
45ft (13.7m) above Stage level
Loading Bridge #2
70ft (21.3m) above Stage level
Maximum Out Trim
65ft (19.8m)
General Information
Dressing Rooms
15
Rehearsal Hall
Approximate dimensions 54ft by 44ft (16.5m by 13.4m)
Seating Capacity
2,967 (Orchestra: 1,218; Dress Circle: 421; Mezzanine: 518; Balcony: 810)
Total Dressing Room Capacity
92
Lighting
Balcony Rail to Curtain Line
93ft 7in (28.6m)
Dimmers
546 circuits (5 x 90-way ETC Sensor Plus permanent installation racks; 96-way portable rack at stage level)
Followspot Booth to Curtain Line
151ft (46m)
Followspots
4 x Lycian 1293 X3K (3kw Xenon)
Orchestra Pit
Capacity
100 musicians
Depth
Standard Depth: 11ft 4in (3.5m); Extended Depth: 15ft 11in (4.8m)
Width
61ft (18.6m)
Stage Dimensions
Apron Depth
6ft (1.8m)
Proscenium Height
29ft 6in (9m)
Proscenium Width
56ft (17.1m)
Stage Depth
60ft (18.3m)
Stage Left Wing
39ft (11.9m)
Stage Right Wing
28ft (8.5m) to Pin Rail
Stage Width
134ft 8in (41m)
Historic Photos & Documents

Files displayed in this section may be subject to copyright; refer to our Copyright Fair Use Statement regarding our use of copyrighted media.

Photos of the San Diego Civic Theatre

Jump to Photo Section:

  1. Auditorium: Orchestra
  2. Auditorium: Dress Circle
  3. Auditorium: Mezzanine
  4. Auditorium: Balcony
  5. Grand Salon
  6. Grand Salon Chandelier
  7. Front of House Areas
  8. Exterior
  9. Backstage: Stage Level
  10. Backstage: Fly Floor and Grid
  11. Spotlight Booth
  12. Auditorium: Ceiling and Attic
Auditorium: Orchestra

Main Floor seating consists of the Orchestra area, accommodating 1,128 including 12 wheelchair locations, and the Dress Circle located behind the Orchestra seating which accommodate 394 including 12 wheelchair locations.

The Orchestra section contains three rows of removable seating at the front to accommodate various sizes of Orchestra Pit. Up to 90 seats may be removed.

Auditorium: Dress Circle

The Dress Circle is located at the rear of the Orchestra seating section, on main floor level. There are 394 seats including 12 wheelchair locations. 27 moveable seats cater for a sound mixing position.

Auditorium: Mezzanine

The Mezzanine Level accommodates 422 including 12 wheelchair locations. The Lower Loges, on both sides of the Mezzanine, accommodate 96.

Auditorium: Balcony

The Balcony accommodates 710, with an additional 100 seats in the Upper Loges located on the left and right side of the Balcony. The Spot Booth is located at the rear of the Balcony.

Grand Salon
Grand Salon Chandelier

The Grand Salon’s chandelier is not original, with funds for its purchase having been raised soon after the theatre opened. The chandelier was installed in March 1966, about one year after the theatre’s original opening.

The chandelier is composed of 52,000 Bavarian crystals and weighs 2,800 pounds. The chandelier measures 15ft wide, 8ft wide, and 12ft high.

Front of House Areas
Exterior

The Civic theatre was part of the three-block San Diego Civic Center development (now known as Civic Center Plaza with the Charles C. Dail concourse at its center) which was built between 1960 and 1965. The development originally housed City Hall (now the City’s administration building), a convention hall now used as an indoor arena and called Golden Hall, and the new Civic theatre, described at its opening as “the sparkler in the bright new downtown Concourse”.

Backstage: Stage Level

The stage is a massive 134ft 8in (41m) wide, and is 60ft (18.3m) deep not including the Scene Dock at the rear center of the stage. The proscenium is 56ft wide by 29ft 6in high (17.1m by 9m). The Stage Left Wing is 39ft (11.9m) and the Stage Right Wing is 28ft (8.5m) to the Pinrail.

Grid height is 81ft (24.7m) with a Fly Floor / Loading Bridge at 45ft (13.7m) above Stage level, and a second Loading Bridge 70ft (21.3m) above Stage level.

Backstage: Fly Floor and Grid

Grid height is 81ft (24.7m) with a Fly Floor / Loading Bridge at 45ft (13.7m) above Stage level, and a second Loading Bridge 70ft (21.3m) above Stage level.

There are 64 linesets with 5 lift lines per set, loading capacity generally 1,600lbs (726kg) per set. Two additional linesets are dedicated to lighting ladders on either side of the stage. There are 3 additional wire-guide linesets. All linesets are operated from Stage level on Stage Right.

Spotlight Booth

The Followspot Booth has four permanently installed Lycian 1293 X3K (3kW Xenon) followspots. Throw distance to the stage (curtain line) is 151ft or 46m.

Auditorium: Ceiling and Attic

The “Eyebrow” is a lip, located above – and running the entire width – of the proscenium. The main speaker cluster is in the center of the eyebrow.

The “High Bay” is a catwalk running most of the width of the auditorium with numerous lighting positions and fed by 28 circuits. Throw distance to the curtain line is 96ft (29.3m).



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