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The tragedy of the Starlight Bowl

A plan afoot to save the Balboa Park classic

Yet the 1930s-era bowl still stands in this, its season of disrepair
Yet the 1930s-era bowl still stands in this, its season of disrepair

The School for Creative Careers and its founder Steve Stopper is suing the City of San Diego for allowing the historic Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park to fall into disrepair.

Built in 1935, the 3500-seat capacity stadium was first known as the Ford Bowl and later renamed Starlight Musical Theatre after the City of San Diego agreed to lease the stadium to the San Diego Civic Light Opera, also known as the Starlight Theatre, to put on theatrical performances. According to the lease, which was renewed for an additional 25-year term in 2005, the Starlight Theatre was required to put on a minimum of 24 plays a year.

That has not happened for quite some time. In 2011, staffers at Starlight announced the company was filing for bankruptcy to get out from under a million dollars in debt; the company was also saddled with allegations by employees that it failed to make payments to their pension plan.

Despite assurances that the curtain would be raised once again, during the past five years the bowl has fallen into disrepair. The email address for the Starlight Theatre Group no longer works. The company's Facebook page has been removed.

The lack of performances and the sad state of the bowl has caused Stopper and his School for Creative Careers to step in and request the city terminate the lease.

Starlight Weed and Skate Co.

According to the complaint, weeds have taken root in the stands, graffiti mars the stage area, and a makeshift skate park with ledges to grind on and ramps to skate has been erected since the theater company stopped putting on shows.

Before filing his complaint, Stopper, who is a musician and member of the Stopper Group, submitted a public records request to the City of San Diego in an effort to get up to speed with the city and the Starlight's lease. The request revealed that the police were called to the Starlight Bowl after receiving a tip that the premises were housing a small marijuana growing operation, with heat lamps and plants in the backstage area.

Reads the lawsuit: "In this email the City recognizes that the Starlight Theatre 'has become an attractive nuisance and in need of a major clean out and securing with higher/better fencing.'"

In a deposition, Stopper stated that he has been asking the city to act since September 2014.

"I have been in contact with the city for years and through my attorney have been in contact with them since September 4, 2014. I asked my attorney for an update as of the date of signing this declaration and neither he, nor I, have heard from the city of any movement towards terminating its lease with [San Diego Civic Light Opera Association] for the Starlight Theatre. I believe it is well past time the city act on behalf of all residents and visitors to San Diego."

Let the Show Go On

Stopper wants the city to terminate the lease and enter into a new lease agreement with his School for Creative Careers. He estimates repairs to the theater will cost approximately $200,000. After renovations, his nonprofit would be ready for its first performance within six months’ time.

"As an acoustic expert, I understand the Starlight Theatre is directly under the flight path so there are large sound-quality hurdles; however, my experience working with acoustic environments as sensitive as the Marine firing range at Twentynine Palms and the historic USS Midway Museum, I can work with the School For Creative Careers to best position speakers to help overcome plane noises and also counter reverberations," Stopper says in his declaration.

"For delicate sound requirements of certain performances I have partnerships ready to install noise-canceling* headphones for patron use. While that may not be ideal for optimized sound, it is a readily achievable and cost effective solution for putting on high quality events at a beautiful venue while preserving the historic aspects of the Starlight Theatre."

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Yet the 1930s-era bowl still stands in this, its season of disrepair
Yet the 1930s-era bowl still stands in this, its season of disrepair

The School for Creative Careers and its founder Steve Stopper is suing the City of San Diego for allowing the historic Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park to fall into disrepair.

Built in 1935, the 3500-seat capacity stadium was first known as the Ford Bowl and later renamed Starlight Musical Theatre after the City of San Diego agreed to lease the stadium to the San Diego Civic Light Opera, also known as the Starlight Theatre, to put on theatrical performances. According to the lease, which was renewed for an additional 25-year term in 2005, the Starlight Theatre was required to put on a minimum of 24 plays a year.

That has not happened for quite some time. In 2011, staffers at Starlight announced the company was filing for bankruptcy to get out from under a million dollars in debt; the company was also saddled with allegations by employees that it failed to make payments to their pension plan.

Despite assurances that the curtain would be raised once again, during the past five years the bowl has fallen into disrepair. The email address for the Starlight Theatre Group no longer works. The company's Facebook page has been removed.

The lack of performances and the sad state of the bowl has caused Stopper and his School for Creative Careers to step in and request the city terminate the lease.

Starlight Weed and Skate Co.

According to the complaint, weeds have taken root in the stands, graffiti mars the stage area, and a makeshift skate park with ledges to grind on and ramps to skate has been erected since the theater company stopped putting on shows.

Before filing his complaint, Stopper, who is a musician and member of the Stopper Group, submitted a public records request to the City of San Diego in an effort to get up to speed with the city and the Starlight's lease. The request revealed that the police were called to the Starlight Bowl after receiving a tip that the premises were housing a small marijuana growing operation, with heat lamps and plants in the backstage area.

Reads the lawsuit: "In this email the City recognizes that the Starlight Theatre 'has become an attractive nuisance and in need of a major clean out and securing with higher/better fencing.'"

In a deposition, Stopper stated that he has been asking the city to act since September 2014.

"I have been in contact with the city for years and through my attorney have been in contact with them since September 4, 2014. I asked my attorney for an update as of the date of signing this declaration and neither he, nor I, have heard from the city of any movement towards terminating its lease with [San Diego Civic Light Opera Association] for the Starlight Theatre. I believe it is well past time the city act on behalf of all residents and visitors to San Diego."

Let the Show Go On

Stopper wants the city to terminate the lease and enter into a new lease agreement with his School for Creative Careers. He estimates repairs to the theater will cost approximately $200,000. After renovations, his nonprofit would be ready for its first performance within six months’ time.

"As an acoustic expert, I understand the Starlight Theatre is directly under the flight path so there are large sound-quality hurdles; however, my experience working with acoustic environments as sensitive as the Marine firing range at Twentynine Palms and the historic USS Midway Museum, I can work with the School For Creative Careers to best position speakers to help overcome plane noises and also counter reverberations," Stopper says in his declaration.

"For delicate sound requirements of certain performances I have partnerships ready to install noise-canceling* headphones for patron use. While that may not be ideal for optimized sound, it is a readily achievable and cost effective solution for putting on high quality events at a beautiful venue while preserving the historic aspects of the Starlight Theatre."

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Comments
6

I loved the shows and the way the actors and singers would stop-time with their mouths open when a plane flew overhead. It was all part of the fun. It doesn't all have to be plastic, convention-ready to be used. It can actually be enjoyed by the people of San Diego. Oh, wait, who cares about that any more? We were never America's fun city. Only the finest.

Sept. 18, 2015

If the Old Globe can deal with the airplanes, why can't the Starlight?

Eric Hanson, I also wonder why a completely defunct organization can still hold a lease. It doesn't make much sense.

Joe Fitzpatrick Junior, that's a great idea. I have seen a product advertised that is sail-like, has three sides and can be used in conjunction with several of the same to stretch over and under in ways that might help with some sound abatement and would definitely help in the event of any rain. And of course are very useful for shade if the area is used during the day.

Too bad that hopeless centennial committee that wasted all that money didn't put it towards something useful, such as bringing this venue back.

Sept. 20, 2015

Good grief, everyone knows that our city leaders are too busy consuming themselves with convincing taxpayers to subsidize a billion dollar stadium for billionaire businessmen from Stockton. Why should they bother with maintaining any arts or culture venues when pleasing the spectator sports meatheads is more politically expedient?

Sept. 21, 2015

Saw Joe Zawinul there. He sampled the plane noise and incorporated into his solo. Genius.

Sept. 21, 2015

I really thought that place was torn down long ago. I've haven't heard it mentioned in years, no signage either. I'm glad to learn its still there. I played in the Therel's (sp?) Music Store piano recitals in the 1960's, a 100 kids playing on 100 pianos. Isn't it also the venue where The Beatles played?

Sept. 30, 2015

I don't know about the Starlight, but the Beatles played the California Theatre in the '60s.

June 12, 2016

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