Built in 1914…
This first-of-its-kind organ designed to play for an outdoor audience has been amazing music-lovers since December 31, 1914, when from his presidential desk Woodrow Wilson touched the telegraph key that set off fireworks and lit the Pavilion’s 1,644 incandescent bulbs to launch the Panama-California International Exposition.
Now with 5,017 pipes in 80 ranks, the Spreckels Organ is the largest outdoor organ in the world and continues to offer free programs of the full range of musical masterworks thanks to a cooperative partnership between the City of San Diego and the Spreckels Organ Society.
The Austin pipe organ, and the Pavilion designed by Harrison Albright to house it, were a gift from brothers John and Adolph Spreckels to the people of the world, offering free music in the days before commercial radio, television, or movies with sound.
The Pavilion was a focus of musical performances during the 1915-16 Exposition, thanks to a music committee headed by Gertrude Gilbert. During World War I Miss Gilbert worked with the YMCA to furnish music for Sunday morning services here for sailors in training.
In addition to organ concerts, the Pavilion has served as a civic gathering place, including memorials for Warren G. Harding, John D. Spreckels, Ernestine Schumann-Heink, and Bea Evenson, as well as a place to welcome luminaries from Albert Einstein to former presidents.
During World War II, Specialist First Class D. Robert Smith gave weekly recitals for servicemen and families, especially important in aiding shell-shocked troops. Daytime use of the Pavilion was for instruction and lectures, with movies shown at night.
With restoration completed in 1986, the International Summer Organ Festival was launched, offering magical summer nighttime concerts featuring the world’s greatest organists.
A book on the history of the Spreckels Organ is available for purchase at the Spreckels Organ Society Gift Shop, which is open during concerts at the Pavilion, or at the Balboa Park Visitors Center.