Home Madrid scholarships Balboa Park: home to the largest outdoor pipe organ in the world

Balboa Park: home to the largest outdoor pipe organ in the world


Fender guitars, Steinway pianos and Suzuki harmonicas are iconic instruments. Locally, there is a world famous instrument of rarer manufacture in Balboa Park at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

With over 4,500 pipes and thousands of parts that move in synchronization to create a unique sound, the Spreckels Organ is considered the largest outdoor pipe organ in the world.

Built in 1915 by the Austin Organ Co., it was built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and donated to the city by brothers John D. and Adolph Spreckels.

Since then, people can visit the pavilion to listen to the famous Spreckels organ for free. This was stipulated by the 1915 Deed of Gift by which the brothers donated the organ and pavilion to the city of San Diego.

The facility hosts an International Organ Festival on Monday evenings at 7:30 p.m. during the summer and the Twilight in the Park Concert Series on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays during the summer at 6:15 p.m.

Additionally, the pavilion is the site of many concerts, graduations, weddings, and special events throughout the year. Every Sunday, free, public organ concerts by the civic organist or guest artists are presented at 2 p.m.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that the instrument is the pavilion itself,” said Raúl Prieto Ramírez, San Diego Civic’s artistic director and organist. “It’s massive like a three-story building with lots of moving parts. It is the console that is carried on stage during the show.

Ramírez typically plays the organ for an hour and 10 minutes on Sundays when the crowd immerses themselves in his unique sounds.

“A lot of people can’t afford to go to a symphony, but they can come to Balboa Park and listen to the same quality experience,” he said.

Music for all

At one time, these types of organs could be found in many major cities like New York, as well as in Austria and the United Kingdom, Ramírez said.

“The idea was to make music for everyone,” Ramírez said. “What makes San Diego unique is that it’s outdoors. I like to call it ‘open air’ because the organ is in the pavilion that starts in the basement and people don’t It spans several stories and some of its pipes are 32 feet long… so long that some had to be bent to keep from breaking.

The organ has over 4500 pipes and is designed to reproduce an orchestra.


Crowds explore the freshly opened 1916 Spreckels Organ Pavilion. (Photo courtesy San Diego History Center)

According to the San Diego History Center, “Philanthropist John D. Spreckels orders the construction of the organ. A commemorative plaque on the right side of the console States: ‘John D. Spreckels generously donated the organ of this temple for the enjoyment of those who, like him, are music lovers AD MCMXXIV.

At the time, Adolph Spreckels was dying of syphilis and John donated it in his honor. He died before it was completed in 1925. The indoor/outdoor Skinner organ cost over $100,000 at the time.

Today’s organist

World-renowned Spanish musician Raul Prieto Ramirez is the current organist of the pavilion. (Courtesy picture)

As for Ramírez, he is the first current Spanish organist to establish himself among the elite of the international pipe organ scene.

“I discovered the organ by listening to the radio as a child in my village in Spain and reading a dictionary,” he said.

He didn’t come face to face with a real organ until he was 16, “which was very late”.

At 27, as the first organist at Spain’s National Concert Hall in Madrid, Ramírez increased attendance by a multiple of 30 and critics hailed him as one of the most exciting talents in the music world. music scene.

He travels all over the world to perform, give lectures and participate in jury competitions in Europe and the United States. Premieres of his works have been recorded and broadcast in Spain.

Organ care

As for the maintenance of the mass organ, the city of San Diego maintains the instrument and the position of civic organist with the support of the Spreckels Organ Society.

The society also offers educational programs for children, a loaner program to give students practice instruments, provides scholarships, and presents the largest international summer organ festival in the United States, in addition to special concerts. in the evening, open houses, tours and fundraising.

The Spreckels Organ Society is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1988 to preserve, program, and promote the Spreckels Organ “as a worldwide treasure for all to enjoy.”

The Pavilion recently presented a special Halloween event/concert and will be offering holiday concerts over the coming months.