Exploring Balboa Park February 2015

Posted: February 6th, 2015 | Columnists, Exploring Balboa Park, Featured | 1 Comment

By Johnny McDonald

Starlight continues to dim

Weather worn and aging, Starlight Bowl’s stage and orchestra pit will likely remain silent during Balboa Park’s yearlong Centennial. No need for those 3,575 seats … and yet this 80-year old amphitheater is still recognized as part of the park’s legacy. For now, its doors are padlocked.

Mike Ruiz, district manager for Balboa Park 2015, said there might be a chance for a single night performance but it would depend on the organizers undergoing a fund raising campaign to restore the theater.

Ruiz said Centennial plans are to conduct free entertainment this summer at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

“We have a lot of outstanding talent in the area and we are studying suggested programs,” he explained. “This includes a number of activities with several community groups and we’re in the permit process. It’s a matter of filling out the paperwork. If there is a need to have major shows, we can rely on a ton of local talent.”

The Ford Motor Co. built Starlight Bowl, originally to be known as Ford Bowl, as part of its construction with a round building next door that would feature it’s new model cars at the 1935-1936 Exposition. Unfortunately the Bowl was under the flight path into Lindbergh Field. The round building now is the Air and Space Museum.

As for Starlight it might be remembered for it’s stop-and-go musicals.

A red light would flash in the orchestra pit to stop the music when planes approached. The performers would freeze for 10 to 15 seconds and then resume, hopefully to find the right note again after the pause.

One show patron counted 42 interruptions during a performance of “The Mikado.”

Through the years there have been other interruptions, four years when the armed services occupied the park during World War II, and twice in the 1990s because of finances. It closed in 2011 because of bankruptcy.

San Diego Civic Light Opera Association had been one of the oldest continuous musical theater companies in the United States. It was restarted in 1945 by Charles Cannon, William Dean, Julius Leib and Robert J. Sullivan for productions like “The Chocolate Soldier,” “H.M.S. Pinafore,” “Naughty Marietta,” “The Barber of Seville” and “Hansel and Gretel.”

Hall of Champions awards

The Chargers’ outstanding running back LaDainian Tomlinson, baseball standout Chris Chambliss and baseball/basketball star Tony Clark will be inducted into the Hall of Champions’ Breitbard Hall of Fame on Feb. 23 at the Town & Country Hotel Convention Center in Mission Valley.

San Diego State University golfer Gunn Yang, who won the U.S. Amateur Championship, heads a list of amateur stars of the year.

Other Aztec selections were football’s D.J. Pumphrey (school record 1,867 yards rushing), basketball’s Xavier Thames (Mountain West Player of the Year) and two-time NCAA triple jump champion Shanieka Thomas (school record 45 feet, 11 inches); University of San Diego’s basketball player Johnny Dee (who set a school career scoring record in January), golfer Grant Forrest (WCC Player of the Year and St. Andrews Links Trophy winner); UC San Diego swimmer Anji Shakya (NCAA Division II champion in the 500-yard freestyle) and baseball star Troy Cruz (.326 at the plate).

Elsewhere in the park … In March the San Diego Museum of Art will open “Divine Desire: Printmaking, Mythology, and the Birth of the Baroque,” as part of the museum’s permanent collection. It will feature more than 70 engravings produced in Northern Europe and Italy in the late 16th and early 17th centuries … the 40th annual Small Image Show at the Spanish Village Art Center’s Gallery 21 began Jan. 31 and will run until March 1 and is open to all San Diego artists. The purpose is to provide a unique challenge for the artist by utilizing a small image concept in the widest range of visual expression. Artwork must measure no more than 10 inches in any direction including frame, base and display … as part of the Centennial Celebration, the San Diego Auto Museum will feature cars of 1915 and 1935.

After an award winning, 38-year sports-writing career with the San Diego Union and authoring three books, Johnny McDonald now considers writing a hobby. You can reach him at

One Comments

  1. […] [See “Balboa Park: Starlight continues to dim,” Vol. 16, Issue 2]: Starlight seems like an ideal place for young folk band concerts starting around 10 – 11 p.m., […]

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