The Spreckels Organ Society programs and promotes the great Spreckels outdoor organ in Balboa Park, where concerts are offered to the public free of charge every Sunday at 2:00 PM in cooperation with the City of San Diego and Civic Organist Dr. Carol Williams. The Society also produces a Monday evening concert series during the summer, highlighted by visiting artists and a silent movie night accompanied live on the organ. The organ was a gift to "the people of San Diego and the world" from brothers John and Adolph Spreckels at the start of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, and is still playing almost 100 years later!
The non-profit Spreckels Organ Society was founded in 1988 to preserve and program this unique civic asset located in the heart of Balboa Park. The Spreckels Organ Society welcomes members, who receive the quarterly StopTab newsletter along with invitations to special events. Members are entitled to a discount on all purchases at the Spreckels Organ Gift Shop (at the Organ Pavilion during concerts). Funds from membership and donations support organ programming, a scholarship program for student organists, Family Festival Day outreach to young audiences, and guest artists who perform with the Spreckels Organ.
The Spreckels Organ is the second-largest outdoor organ in the world with 4,518 pipes comprising 73 ranks. While expanded and improved over the years, the organ utilizes the same innovative electro-pneumatic design originated by the builder, the Austin Organ Company of Hartford, Connecticut. Now maintained by co-curators Lyle Blackinton and Dale Sorenson of L.W. Blackinton & Associates, the organ is capable of performing the full range of organ repertoire from classical to theatre organ styles.
The Spreckels Organ Pavilion was built in 1914 specifically to house the Spreckels Organ and was designed by Harrison Albright, whose work for the Spreckels companies included the Spreckels Theatre, the U.S. Grant Hotel, the Spreckels mansion in Coronado, and other buildings. Visitors to the Pavilion will often see brides or families taking advantage of the photogenic setting for portrait sessions. Today the Pavilion is administered by the San Diego Park & Recreation Department, which offers permits to use the facility for events that are free and open to the public. Among the popular events staged annually at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion are the annual Community Christmas Center, the Easter Sunrise Service, the summertime Twilight in the Park musical series, all planned by a variety of community organizations. Graduation and commencement ceremonies are also frequent in spring and summer.
Concerts on the Spreckels Organ are overseen by San Diego Civic Organist Dr. Carol Williams, who since 2001 has brought a wide variety of musical programming to the stage, both the masterworks of the organ repertoire and unique jazz and choral performances that showcase the versatility of "the King of Instruments." In partnership with the San Diego Humane Society, Dr. Williams stages a "Bark in Balboa Park" concert each year that features a canine parade. Similar collaborations with organizations such as the Red Cross and Operation Rebound have promoted good causes in San Diego together with excellence in music.