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Vintage: The Old Globe in 1935

From two accounts of arson to Broadway acclaim, Balboa Park's Old Globe Theatre has seen it all

By Kimberly Cunningham

Balboa Park’s Old Globe Theatre has a history that reads like a Shakespearean drama: a world-renowned fair, a hole in the ceiling, two accounts of arson, and Broadway acclaim. It all started as part of the California Pacific International Exposition in 1935. Built to entertain the crowds with abridged performances of Shakespeare’s plays, the main theater’s design was modeled after the 16th-century open-air Globe Theatre in London. Ours was also constructed without a roof, and remained that way for the first year.

In 1978, an arson-set fire forced the company to rebuild. A second arsonous fire in 1984 destroyed the outdoor Festival Stage, which was rebuilt the following year and is now known as the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre.

Today the Old Globe is one of the most highly regarded regional theater companies in the country. Its fate has largely been steered by Craig Noel, who starred in the Globe’s first production when it evolved into an independent theater company after the expo ended in 1937. Noel went on to become the organization’s artistic director, a position he held for over three decades.

The Globe has debuted more than 20 shows that have gone on to Broadway, resulting in 13 Tony Awards, including one for Outstanding Regional Theatre. This month we celebrate San Diego’s local performing and fine arts institutions with our annual Arts Preview. Read about the season’s most anticipated shows and exhibits on page 66, including the Old Globe’s latest musical, October Sky, based on the memoir Rocket Boys and subsequent movie. We’re casting our vote for another Tony now!

By the Numbers

31 – Days it took to build the first theater (April 28–May 29, 1935)

1986 – Year Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods debuted at the Globe; it opened on Broadway the following year

77 – Tony Award nominations for Broadway shows that originated at the Old Globe

$2.23 million – Box office record for the musical Allegiance featuring George Takei, the highest-grossing show in Globe history

15 – Main-stage productions produced per year

1949 – Year of the first Shakespeare Festival, thereby launching an annual San Diego summer tradition

Vintage: The Old Globe in 1935

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