Downtown San Diego’s Balboa Theatre turns 100 in 2024

The historic venue on Fourth Avenue debuted in March 1924 as a vaudeville and movie theater.

The tan exterior of Balboa Theatre in downtown San Diego with it Spanish Colonial style architecture and people walking in the foreground.

The landmark on Fourth Avenue in downtown San Diego turns 100 years old in March 2024.

We love a shimmy down memory lane. Downtown San Diego’s Balboa Theatre turns 100 in 2024 — let’s run through the landmark’s history and centennial celebrations. Raise the curtains, it’s showtime.

Downtown San Diego's Balboa Theatre in 1972, on black and white film.

Balboa Theatre in 1972 — nearly 50 years into its life as a downtown San Diego performing arts and movie venue.

Photo via San Diego City Clerk Archives

Showstopping moments

Designed by architect William H. Wheeler, the $800,000 venue debuted in late March 1924 as a vaudeville and movie theater. The building’s design was partly inspired by the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture seen about a decade prior in the construction of Balboa Park — we thought that tiled dome looked familiar.

  • 1934: After remodeling, the venue reopened as Teatro Balboa, with a focus on films from Mexico City and Latino stars.
  • Early 1940s: During World War II, the office space served as housing for US military soldiers.
  • 1959: The Russo family bought the theater, saving it from demolition. It reopened as an “action movie house.”
  • 1972: The theater was placed on the local Historic Register.
The stage at Balboa Theatre in San Diego with a bright blue curtain and ornate designs framing it.

Inside the Balboa Theatre — the ornate decor is one-of-a-kind.

  • 1985: The city’s redevelopment agency acquired the site.
  • 1996: It was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
  • 2002: The City of San Diego committed to preserving the site as a community asset; renovations began a few years later.
  • 2008: With a $26.5 million renovation, the 1,339-capacity venue reopened.
Balboa Theatre in San Diego at night, its lights and marquee glowing.

Today, Balboa Theatre offers a robust lineup of entertainment year-round.

Photo via @kidfrom619

🎟️ Modern times

Today, Balboa Theatre features a robust, year-round events lineup — from live music and dance to stand-up comedy and podcast tours.

The site’s centennial celebration is planned for Thursday, March 28-Saturday, March 30, with four special events:

  • 100th Anniversary Gala | Acclaimed pianist and playwright Hershey Felder will lead this show inspired by 100 years of famous American music.
  • Centennial Salute | This tribute will honor the venue’s ties to San Diego’s military with a screening of the silent film, “The Flying Fleet,” accompanied by organist Ken Double.
  • Toons and Tunes | Bring the kids to this one — classic cartoons will play on the big screen while Ken Double plays the organ; wear your Roaring 1920s attire.
  • San Diego Spotlight | The 100th anniversary celebration culminates with performances from local arts organizations from all of the city’s districts.
More from SDtoday