starlight bowl

Starlight Bowl Looking for New Life in San Diego

Save Starlight is a non-profit working to help bring new life to the Starlight Bowl in San Diego's famous Balboa Park. Their Kickstarter campaign is raising funds to renovate and revitalize the theatre in hopes to bring music, shows, and movies back to the "stop-and-go theatre."

The Starlight Bowl concert venue was built for the California Pacific International Exposition debuting in 1936. It sits next to the Ford Building which now houses the San Diego Air and Space Museum. But what came of the Starlight Bowl 82 years later? Well, right now nothing. But a “Save Starlight” group is working to change that and bring the historic location back to its former glory.

Postcard from California Pacific International Exposition

During the California Pacific International Exposition, the bowl housed numerous concerts including the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the San Francisco Symphony. In later years, rock stars like the Ramones, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Bob Dylan played the bowl. Its longest and most recent run was with the San Diego Civic Light Opera Association, also known as the Starlight Musical Theatre, throughout its illustrious history. The organization was one of the oldest musical theatre companies in the United States until it shuttered in 2011.

One of the most unique features of the theater is the fact that it’s under the direct path of flights landing at San Diego International Airport. The noise from the planes overhead caused a somewhat artistic innovation which became known by patrons as “the freeze.” As a plane approached the venue, a spotter would alert the conductor with a yellow warning light letting them as well as the actors know of a potential freeze. Next, a red light would be lit indicating for the actors and conductor to freeze. This means the actors may freeze mid-song, mid-dance or even mid-kiss.

Because of this, Starlight Musical Theatre became known in the industry as the “stop-and-go theatre.”

When Starlight Musical Theatre ceased operation in 2011, everything that would be needed to put on shows was just left behind. Sets, lights, costumes, wigs, you name it. Since then it’s been a sort of time capsule for San Diego musical theatre. Sadly, the theatre has fallen into disrepair after nearly a decade of dormancy.

Thankfully, Save Starlight is working hard to bring new life to the venue. They’ve already held numerous clean up events, clearing out the stage area of debris as well as general upkeep of the outer areas of the venue. In December of 2017 they were granted a special use permit for the upper section of the bowl.

Artwork by Emily Wilker

Recently the non-profit has started a Kickstarter campaign inviting everyone get involved in their project. The funds raised from this initial kickstarter will go to help renovate and restore the upper level of the Starlight Bowl. They have three goals of this initial project.

  1. Installing a stage area with lights and sound in the upstairs area
  2. Rebuilding and reopening the concession booth to feature high quality, sustainably-sourced coffee, and concessions
  3. Creating a media center with wifi, live feed cameras, and video editing bays for in-park student broadcasts

Save Starlight needs a minimum of $25,000 to help get the area ready for use as early as summer 2018. This is your chance to help make Starlight a hub for San Diego family entertainment all over again! Check out their Kickstarter page to help pitch in funds and visit their website for more information for other opportunities to help out.

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