A Short History of the Spreckels Organ
Big Music and A Big Man: John Dietrich Spreckels
By Edward S. Barr, Historian
Profiling the world's largest outdoor musical instrument and its creator; John D. Spreckels(1853-1926) is attempted here in outline form. A man of many talents, interests and skills, Spreckels was also credited as being the father of modern San Diego.
A San Francisco resident, Spreckels' love affair with San Diego began with his arrival in 1887. He visualized a great city metropolis of art, culture and enterprise. San Diego at that time was a sleepy little town of 15,000. In his mind, the soul of the city should be in its heart- centrally located Balboa Park. His dream was realized when the Panama-California Exposition was held in 1915.For this occasion and for time forever- John Spreckels presented to the people of San Diego, indeed to the people of all the world a noble, one of a kind, concert outdoor pipe organ capable of playing the full range of musical masterworks. Intended to uplift, enrich and inspire the human spirit through performances of great music, the instrument's powerful voices could be heard from a distance of 3 miles!Spreckels was also a man of big enterprises: a master mariner, owning a vast fleet of sail and steamships to transport his sugar cane to refineries; a transportation magnate, owning all of San Diego's and Coronado's public transportation; a utility wizard, owning all of San Diego's water resources and delivery networks, and a builder of the 'Impossible Railroad' completed in 1919, officially known as the San Diego and Arizona Railroad.John Spreckels vision for the cultural center of San Diego was the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, now seating over 2,400 and located, in fact, in the center of the metropolitan city. Futuristic for its time, the greatly ornamented main building containing the organ, meeting and dressing rooms, is flanked by curved Grecian style colonnades illuminated by 1400 embedded lights. At night the facility resembles a fantasy land of wonderment and awe. The organ itself weighs nearly 100,000 pounds and is protected by a 20,000 pound roll down steel door which seals the instrument from the outside elements when not in use. Wind power for its 4,518 pipes is provided by a 20 HP blower located in the basement.
After 94 years, concerts on the Spreckels organ now attract record crowds, numbering over 100,000 per year. The voice of San Diego continues to serve as the city's cultural center, with Carol Williams as America's first woman civic organist!