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Vintage San Diego: Curtain Up

January 1965


By the Numbers

$3.50 - Ticket price for the San Diego Opera
in 1965

1980 - Year Marsha Sewell won an Orchid Award in Interior Design for the Civic’s renovation

2,967 - Number of seats in the theater

$18 million - Civic Theatre’s annual economic impact

$290Starting price
for orchestra seats on opening night of the
opera today

350,000 - Average
annual attendance 

This month, the Civic Theatre, San Diego’s largest performing arts venue, celebrates 50 years. Its debut came thanks in large part to Assistant City Manager Thomas Fletcher, who led a revitalization of downtown, which at the time was already undergoing rapid changes, from the US Grant Hotel’s 21-story addition to a new state building.

In 1962, the city had proposed to build a new city hall, convention center, civic theater, and parking garage to the tune of $15 million.

“In the thirty-five years I have lived in San Diego, we have been in almost a constant squabble over a convention auditorium and a theater,” the vice chairman of the Civic Center Advisory Board, Philip L. Gildred, said at the time. “This is the first time we have had a near unanimity of opinion.”

Highlights from the first decade included performances of Cabaret and Don Quixote, concerts by Louis Armstrong, and the San Diego Opera’s first staging of La Bohème. In 2002, the venue worked with Accessible San Diego to implement more handicapped-accessible seating and amenities, followed over the course of the next few years by new carpeting and reupholstered seats.

Looking ahead, the theater has plans for another extensive renovation, particularly to the exterior. “Our goal for the next 50 years is to energize the vision of those great 1960s city builders,” says current president Elizabeth Doran. “We hope to again catalyze a shift for downtown.”

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