Landmark Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park is “holding off the creditors.”
  • Landmark Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park is “holding off the creditors.”
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“I tried to rescue the Starlight Bowl because I saw the amazing potential a venue like that had,” says Chris Leyva after learning that managers of the 4000-plus seat amphitheater had recently filed bankruptcy. “I wanted to see it become like a mini Hollywood Bowl, and why not? The Starlight has alcohol permits and a huge parking lot.” Leyva is a San Diego–based musician. He also buys local talent for both House of Blues and 4th&B and he tried to do the same at the Starlight.

“I produced a mini festival [Staring at the Sun V, in March of 2007], but [Starlight management] got greedy and turned people away at the door.” Leyva had flooded high schools throughout San Diego County with free tickets but says Starlight refused to honor them on the day of the show. “She [then-manager Susan Suffecool] started charging them all.” Concertgoers who refused to pay were turned away, he says.

Last month, the Starlight Musical Theater, claiming debts well in excess of one million dollars (including payroll taxes, loans, and union pension-fund contributions) filed for Chapter 11 reorganization and canceled the remainder of the 2011 season. But this is not the first time the venue has come up short: the troubled institution was forced to shutter their 1995–’96 season as well.

Former San Diego Repertory Theatre managing director John Redman was brought in by Starlight management as a consultant in 2008. What he walked into was fiscal confusion. Redman urged the board to file bankruptcy as early as 2009. He still thinks that will save the San Diego landmark. “They’re not declaring bankruptcy and saying we’re closing our doors; that’s not what’s happening. They’re holding off the creditors.” The board, he says, is planning 2012. “They’re even looking at doing things this year.” Meanwhile, Starlight season-ticket holders are being offered ticket-for-ticket exchanges at four area theaters.

Joey Ramone helped shout down them planes back when.

Joey Ramone helped shout down them planes back when.

The Starlight Bowl dates back to the 1930s and the California Pacific International Exposition in Balboa Park. It sits directly under incoming Lindbergh Field air traffic. Entire Broadway musicals are known to freeze onstage during peak moments of jet noise and then resume. Although not so much in recent years, the flyovers have not deterred live rock. Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan, the Stones, Korn, Danzig, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Allman Brothers, the Ramones, and many more are part of the rich heritage of rockers that have shouted down the airplane noise from the Starlight stage.

For now, the message board over the Bowl entrance predicts a favorable outcome: “Stay Tuned for Our 65th Season,” it reads. But Chris Leyva is not so optimistic. In his opinion, the outdoor venue is as good as gone. “Now, I guess nobody wins and San Diego loses one more landmark that could have been. I wish Live Nation would buy it out.”

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Comments

James Sept. 15, 2011 @ 8:18 p.m.

Thank God for People like Chris who try and keep the music alive in San Diego, it's important that we keep these treasured venues open, having some intermediate sized locals that have the history that the Starlight has shut down would just be a total waste. Hopefully people like Chris who put their asses out on the line to put these shows on will come in and save this great Venue!

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theateralltime Sept. 18, 2011 @ 3:32 p.m.

Maybe part of the problem is offering free tickets. Funding, when in theater, is heavily reliant on donations from those who love the arts. Maybe more time should have been spent on lining up donors and reminding them what Starlight once was and exciting them about what it could be. Offering free tickets to high school kids is not the answer. Real promoters with real contacts, a good place to start.

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LarryV Sept. 19, 2011 @ 4:15 p.m.

Yes its unfortunlly the theatre has been left the way it is for so long, so it is going thru some changes,thats why I have jump in to help and donate my time, I've been in the entertainment industry for over 15 years and now I am here to help out the starlight get back on its feet. More to come

L

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Flippercast Oct. 3, 2013 @ 4:50 a.m.

Dear Chris,

I just read your post on the show you did at the Theatre:

“I tried to rescue the Starlight Bowl because I saw the amazing potential a venue like that had,” says Chris Leyva after learning that managers of the 4000-plus seat amphitheater had recently filed bankruptcy. “I wanted to see it become like a mini Hollywood Bowl, and why not? The Starlight has alcohol permits and a huge parking lot.” Leyva is a San Diego–based musician. He also buys local talent for both House of Blues and 4th&B and he tried to do the same at the Starlight.

“I produced a mini festival [Staring at the Sun V, in March of 2007], but [Starlight management] got greedy and turned people away at the door.” Leyva had flooded high schools throughout San Diego County with free tickets but says Starlight refused to honor them on the day of the show. “She [then-manager Susan Suffecool] started charging them all.” Concertgoers who refused to pay were turned away, he says.

Susan Suffecool DID NOT charge for people to go into the venue. So your facts are incorrect and slamming to someone who WAS trying to build a new Theatre experience with local talent. What she DID say was if this show went well we could TALK about the possibility of charging a nominal fee if there was to be a second show.

Starlight took the hit on the sound that was around $2000.00 so we indeed invested in your show and had hopes of building this to be a new and improved venue. We also let you sell your merch out in front and took no "kick back" of said money you earned.

You did a lot of leg work on this and it was appreciated, but in the end the audience turned out to be about 100 +/- for the entire day.

Please make sure in the future that you have your facts correct before you: SLANDER (slan·der [slan-der] Show IPA noun 1. defamation; calumny: rumors full of slander. 2. a malicious, false, and defamatory statement or report: a slander against his good name.)

A person that worked hard to save a San Diego Treasure.

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