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The City of San Diego purchased the Balboa Theatre in 1986, with the building remaining closed for over twenty years. After numerous proposals to privately renovate or re-purpose the Theatre, the City’s Redevelopment Agency made the commitment in 2002 to retain the Theatre as a public asset and fully fund its $26.5 million restoration and rehabilitation. Integral to that commitment was that the Theatre would be reopened as a community performing arts center to be managed by San Diego Theatres. The Theatre reopened in January 2008 with much acclaim from audiences and performers and has received numerous special awards and recognitions on local, state, and national levels, as well as from many professional organizations.
Built in 1924, the historic Balboa Theatre was an elegant vaudeville and movie palace in the heart of downtown San Diego. At the time, it was a state-of-the-art building that included six storefronts along Fourth Avenue, with 34 offices on the floors above. After a 1934 remodeling, the theatre was reopened as El Teatro Balboa, featuring contemporary films from Mexico City and presenting Latin stars to San Diego’s increasingly diverse audience. During World War II, the theatre’s office space was reconfigured by the U.S. Navy into bachelor quarters for sailors waiting to ship out. In 1959, the Russo family of San Diego acquired the building and saved it from potential demolition. They operated it as an action movie house until the City of San Diego purchased it in 1986. Ten years later, the Balboa Theatre Foundation nominated the Theatre to the National Register of Historic Places to save both the interior and exterior of this community asset.
The Balboa Theatre was closed for over twenty years. After numerous proposals to privately renovate or re-purpose the Theatre, the City’s Redevelopment Agency made the commitment in 2002 to retain the Theatre as a public asset and fully fund its $26.5 million restoration and rehabilitation. Integral to that commitment was that the Theatre would be reopened as a community performing arts center to be managed by San Diego Theatres. During the pre-design phase of the restoration planning, Centre City Development Corporation adopted a goal to achieve this ambitious mission:
“To transform the Balboa Theatre into a contemporary performing arts venue treasured by patrons, producers, presenters, performers, and San Diego’s regional community while contributing to redevelopment and the advancement of a vital downtown theatre district. Celebrating its rich history, the Balboa Theatre will be restored in accordance with local application of The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings. Visitors will be inspired by its beauty, comfort, flexibility, and functionality. The Balboa Theatre’s transformation will result in a well equipped, fully functioning venue to effectively and efficiently house diverse programs of local, national and international performances and presentations, and community, corporate and convention gatherings. For performing arts and formal gatherings, the historic Balboa Theatre will once again become a venue of preference.”
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