A century-old gem in the heart of Balboa Park is the Spreckles Organ Pavilion. The organ was played for the first time on New Year’s Eve 1914 to kick off the Panama-California Exposition that began on 1 January 1915, and it’s been entertaining park visitors ever since.
Each Sunday afternoon, you can enjoy a free hour-long concert that begins at 2 p.m. Often, the concerts put together by San Diego’s Civic Organist, Dr. Carol Williams, follow a specific theme. You can see the program for each concert in advance by going to the Spreckels Organ Society website.
Usually from June to August, you can enjoy evening concerts Monday evenings at 7:30 p.m. during the International Summer Organ Festival. Again, more details can be found on the website.
If you’ve never heard a pipe organ in person before, it’s quite the treat. Nothing in the Spreckels organ is amplified. Everything you hear is a direct result of air passing through the pipes or the percussion instruments being activated by the keyboard. It can be very delicate and precise, or it can be gut-rumbling intense.
I suspect that there isn’t a lot of middle ground when it comes to listening to such a massive instrument—you’ll either be enamored by it, or you won’t. But you definitely should make that determination yourself sitting in front of the pavilion. Video or audio recordings don’t compare to the real deal. If you find it’s not your cup of tea, nothing stops you from leaving the open air concert (although it’s probably courteous to wait to do so between songs).
After each concert, you can take a look behind-the-scenes at the inner workings of the organ by climbing a flight of stairs up to where the pipes and percussion instruments are located. It’s quite fascinating to see how everything is put together.
For most people, hearing such an instrument played would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but here in San Diego, it can be a once a week experience for all those who enjoy and relish this unique and magnificent organ.
What You Need To Know
Location: Pan American Rd E, San Diego, CA 92101 (See map below.)
Hours: Concerts 2 p.m., Sundays and 7:30 p.m., Mondays during the International Summer Organ Festival (June–August). Pavilion open daily (but the organ is hidden behind a metal door).
Cost: Free, although donations are accepted.
Phone: (619) 702-8138
Tips: The organ faces north, so audience seating faces south, directly into the San Diego sun. Bring a hat, sunscreen, water, and even an umbrella for shade. If you forget your umbrella, you can rent a beach umbrella for $2 from the Spreckels Organ Society. You can sit in shade on the western wing of the pavilion, but the sound quality is significantly diminished the farther you are to one side or the other.
Click to see full-sized photos.
Visited: 28 February 2016