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Copley Symphony Hall, San Diego

Copley Symphony Hall, San Diego

Architects: Weeks and Day

First Opened: 8th November 1929 (94 years ago)

Reopened: 2nd November 1985

Former Names: Fox Theatre, Symphony Hall

Status: Closed; undergoing renovation

Website: www.copleysymphonyhall.com Open website in new window

Telephone: (619) 236-5423 Call (619) 236-5423

Address: 750 B Street, San Diego, CA 92101 Show address in Google Maps (new window)

Copley Symphony Hall opened in November 1929 as the Fox Theatre, a luxurious movie palace catering to 3,000 patrons and the third-largest single screen on the US West Coast. After a period of closure during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the theatre was gifted in 1984 to the San Diego Symphony and renamed Copley Symphony Hall.

Featured Photos

Detailed Information

Copley Symphony Hall from Balcony level
Copley Symphony Hall from Balcony level

Philip L. and Theodore Gildred built the theatre, engaging architects W. Templeton Johnson and William Day, of architectural firm Weeks and Day. The general contractor was the William Simpson Construction Company. The auditorium is styled in a Rococo theme with roots in Spanish Baroque and the French Renaissance. Anthony Heinsbergen’s company executed much of the elaborate decoration. The theatre is believed to be the last surviving example of designer William Day’s creative work with this décor.

No expense was spared in building the Fox Theatre and its final price tag was $2.5 million. The theatre opened exactly one week after the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

The San Diego Fox Theatre was set within a four-story mixed-use building, the first floor devoted to storefronts and the upper stories used for offices. A square tower marked by finials signaled to pedestrians and motorists the location of the theatre portion of the building. A vertical neon sign emblazoned with the name “Fox” graced the top of the tower.

The theatre’s opening night, 8th November 1929
The theatre’s opening night, 8th November 1929

At its opening in 1929 the crowd was estimated at 100,000, at a time when the population of San Diego was just 147,000. Four blocks had to be roped-off to accommodate the crowd. Guests included Jackie Coogan, Buster Keaton, George Jessel, and Will Rogers. When opened, the Fox San Diego was Fox West Coast’s largest theatre.

Because of San Diego’s wide cross-section in its population, the Fox became a choice for motion picture sneak previews. Walt Disney loved the atmosphere so much that he opened all of his movies at the Fox.

A 4-manual, 32-rank Robert Morton theatre organ, containing 3,000 pipes, was installed at a cost of $50,000, featuring five walled chambers within the auditorium. The primary organist was Edith Ducker Steele, who played accompanying music while comedy, chases, drama, and romance filled the screen. When “talking pictures” established their dominance in the mid-1930s, the organ was moved to the back of the stage and forgotten, however in 1967 the San Diego Theatre Organ Group took an interest and restored the organ to its 1932 glory.

Theatre Lobby
Theatre Lobby

Battling against the uprising of television, renovations took place in May 1977 to accommodate live theatre, however the Fox Theatre closed in the late 1970s and the building was ultimately sold to the City of San Diego.

In 1984 the theatre was conferred to the San Diego Symphony Link opens in new window as part of a complex agreement allowing developers to build a hotel and office building around and above the theatre, which in return would finance the transfer of ownership to the Symphony and allow for refurbishment of the theatre. The theatre was renamed Symphony Hall. The surrounding office tower and hotel complex was built in such a way that no walls of the surrounding complex touch the original walls of the theatre, to preserve its acoustical integrity. Helen Copley, then publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune, donated $2 million which enabled the deal to move forward and ultimately resulted in her family name being placed on the hall in early 1985.

Additional benefactors to the Symphony have been Joan and Irwin Jacobs, whose name has now been conferred upon the complex as a whole as the Jacobs Music Center.

New entrance area created as part of the 1985 renovation
New entrance area created as part of the 1985 renovation

A major $4.75 million renovation was undertaken in 1985, and the Los Angeles-based Heinsbergen Decorating Company, who had decorated the hall for its 1929 opening, duplicated their original decoration during the restoration.

The concert hall reopened with a televised star-studded concert on Saturday 2nd November 1985, with performers including Toni Tennille, Ben Vereen, Oscar Peterson, Diahann Carroll, Hal Linden, Joel Grey, and flute player James Galway. The San Diego Symphony’s new season began a few days later on 7th November 1985 with a concert of classical music.

Since the 1985 renovation, numerous improvements to the concert hall have been made. Upgrades include acoustically friendly cherry wood floors and risers for the stage, a modular orchestra shell with stage ceiling units, a “piano elevator”, new sound booth and music library facilities, expanded restrooms, a new administrative lobby, completely renovated administrative offices, a new lobby elevator, ADA-compliant railings and new wheelchair seating areas, a renovated backstage elevator, fully digital light and sound systems, the backstage Grosvenor Family Musicians Center, practice rooms, new carpeting, and the Revelle Room reception area.

In late February 2022 the San Diego Symphony unveiled plans Link opens in new window to revitalize the venue with a plan that embraces the theatre’s iconic architecture while enhancing the overall experience. The project, with an estimated cost of $125 million, will honor the history of the Jacobs Music Center’s historic building while greatly enhancing the musical and performance experience for artists and audiences alike. According to principal architects HGA Link opens in new window, key elements of the renovation include:

Following the massive revitalization, the reopening of Copley Symphony Hall is anticipated in late 2024.

Copley Symphony Hall is one of the few venues in the world that belongs to the orchestra playing in it.

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How do I visit Copley Symphony Hall?

The San Diego Symphony conducts regular tours of Copley Symphony Hall on a monthly basis. Tours are free, last one hour, and no reservation is required unless your group is over 20. For more details and dates visit the San Diego Symphony History & Tours page Link opens in new window.

Copley Symphony Hall has been a regular participant in the annual Open House: San Diego event, which ran for its third year in March 2019. For more details visit the Open House San Diego website Link opens in new window.

Further Reading



Technical Information

Flying System
System Type
Single-Purchase Counterweight operated Stage Right at Stage level
Grid Height
69ft 10in (21.3m)
Stage Dimensions
Apron Depth
15ft 3in (4.6m)
Proscenium Height
30ft (9.1m)
Proscenium Width
50ft (15.2m)
Stage Depth
45ft 1in (13.7m)
Historic Photos & Documents
Files displayed in this section may be subject to copyright; refer to our Copyright Fair Use Statement regarding our use of copyrighted media.

Photos of Copley Symphony Hall

Jump to Photo Section:

  1. Orchestra Level
  2. Balcony Level
  3. Closeups
  4. Public Areas
Orchestra Level

Originally opened with seating for 2,876, the concert hall now seats 2,248.

Balcony Level

Originally opened with seating for 2,876, the concert hall now seats 2,248.


The interior decoration originally featured acoustic plaster in a French Renaissance design. Many of the details were copied from original designs in chateaux in France.

Public Areas

Front-of-House areas include new spaces opened-up as part of the 1985 renovation.

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