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Spreckels Organ Pavilion: San Diego Balboa Park’s One-of-a-Kind Jewel

Sponsored by: Balboa Park Cultural Partnership

Inside San Diego’s historic Balboa Park, resides a one-of-a-kind instrument that draws visitors from near and far – the Spreckels Outdoor Organ. With more than 5,000 pipes, ranging in length from the size of a pencil to 32 feet, it’s the largest outdoor pipe organ in the world.

Live, weekly concerts of the Spreckels Organ will re-open to the public on Sunday, June 27th with no cost for admission. Pull up a seat and enjoy the music, then get an up-close look at the pipe organ to see how it works.

Brittany Pierce, host of YurView’s Destination San Diego show, took a trip to the Spreckels Organ Pavilion to find out more about this fascinating musical instrument. Watch the video above, or check out the full interview transcription below (lightly edited for clarity).

Spreckels Organ Pavilion
Spreckels Organ Pavilion in San Diego’s Balboa Park

History of Spreckels Organ

Brittany Pierce, Host of Destination San Diego – Let’s take an inside look at one of the most unique attractions of historic Balboa Park. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson lit this pavilion to launch the Panama California International Exposition. And the Spreckels Organ has been amazing music lovers ever since. In 1914, John and Adolph Spreckels donated the Spreckels Organ to the city of San Diego for the Panama-California Exposition.

BP (00:27) – This unique outdoor pipe organ contains more than 5000 pipes, ranging in length from the size of a pencil to 32 ft., and is the largest outdoor pipe organ in the world. Every Sunday afternoon, year-round, the sound of the organ resonates through the park during the weekly, free concert.

Ted Bunce, Local (00:46) – I usually come here on Sunday afternoon. I just ride my bike over here and enjoy the concert. You never know what’s going to happen. But you know it’s going to be interesting.

San Diego Civic Organist

Raul Prieto Ramirez, San Diego Civic Organist
Raul Prieto Ramirez, San Diego Civic Organist playing Spreckels Organ

Raul Prieto Ramirez, San Diego Civic Organist (00:55) – Like my predecessors, I’m the eighth in 104 years. It’s my life. That’s what my life is about. My life is about preparing music, and getting music ready for them. Music happened to me, the way humans communicate in a non-symbolic way, in an emotional way. So there is no way you can have humans without music. That never existed.

RPR (01:21) – I play Broadway music, and then Johann Sebastian Bach. Then some early Renaissance. And then late Romantic. Then something from the novelties or something really modern like Bohemian Rhapsody from Queen or things like that. So I mix different styles. So all people who like music get together. There’s a little bit of everything for everybody. But that’s the idea of joining all together on music as an art.

A Look Inside

BP (01:47) – With more than 10,000 moving parts, the organ was a technological marvel when it was built more than 100 years ago. It remains the king of instruments today because of the impeccable care it receives from its curator.

Spreckels Organ Pavilion
Spreckels Outdoor Organ

Dale Sorenson, Spreckels Organ Curator (02:01) – The doors are open after the concert. People can come on stage, look at the console, talk to us down there. They can come up the stairs here and look into the organ, see the pipes.

BP (02:10) – Different shapes of pipes make different sounds. That’s why there’s so many of them. The more pipes being played, the more volume you get. The pedals open up louvers and pipes.

DS (02:21) – We are actually inside the wind chest. Austin (Organ Co.), the builder of this organ, is unique in that it has a walk-in wind chest. We’re underneath the pipes, so above my head are valves that above each valve is a pipe. If you look in there, you can see the toe of the pipe up there.

(02:41) – And so each of these valves, when you play a note, when you play a key, this moves. So really the organ is a big box of whistles. There’s something about hearing music live that’s much more exciting than hearing it coming through earbuds or through loudspeakers. This is the real thing.

Free Live Concerts

Lori and Tom Maason, Visitors from Wisconsin (03:05) – It’s just a fabulous way to to spend the afternoon. This is free. It’s a great reason to come out to Balboa Park and spend the afternoon.

RPR (03:15) – You’re in San Diego. Beaches are everywhere. Museums are everywhere. But you will never be able to see something like this.

BP (03:34) – There’s something about the sound of the organ that you can feel all the way through your bones. You really have to experience it in person.

Live concerts of the Spreckels Organ will be presented every Sunday afternoon and are free to the public. For more information on Spreckels Organ Pavilion, visit spreckelsorgan.org.