Posted by: cantmisssd | January 6, 2010

Spreckels Organ Pavilion

In the early 20th Century, San Diego was still a young city, trying to figure out the best ways to grow up. One of the strategies hit upon by civic leaders of the time was a combined commitment to the arts and aggressive push to interact with other cities across the country and around the world. To make San Diego a destination spot for people who had money for things like winter homes or vacations. Enter the Pan-American Expo of 1915-16.

Balboa Park had been sitting around mostly as open space until the comprehensive plan for its design and development was adopted in 1902. It wasn’t named until 1910, and groundbreaking on the first round of development around El Prado began in 1911. Among the instrumental players in both the Park and the Expo was sugar heir John Spreckels, who decided to fund a massive outdoor organ for the debut of Balboa Park (and San Diego). Harrison Albright- who also designed the US Grant hotel downtown- designed the pavilion, and Connecticut’s Austin Organs built the organ, which today contains 73 ranks and 4,518 pipes.

The Spreckels Organ was and remains the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ, with pipes ranging in size from 32 feet to about the size of a pencil. As ambient noise has increased over the years (cars, planes, etc.), so too has the power of the organ increased. But it is still without any artificial amplification or fabricated musical accompaniment.

The organ debuted with The Processional March at the stroke of midnight in celebration of the new year, 1915. Two years later, the position of San Diego Civic Organist was created, today held by Dr. Carol Williams, who has performed the world over over, from Notre Dame to St. Patrick’s, from Westminster Abbey to the National Cathedral. She carries on the long tradition of free concerts every Sunday at 2pm and will kick off the Monday evening series with a series of summer evening concerts at 7:30pm. I recently caught the New Years Day 95th anniversary concert, and I continue to be impressed. You can see her do her stuff in the video below.

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