Balboa Theatre

San Diego, CA


During the early phases of the Balboa Theatre (1924) restoration, it was impossible to tell what the theater originally looked like, due to heavy tarnishing in the auditorium, drop-ceilings in the entry, and overpaint in the lobbies. Beginning with a paint and plaster survey, EverGreene was able to piece together the historic palette by researching historic photographs, creating exposure windows, and conducting microscopy analysis. What the investigation revealed, concealed by dulling oxidation and dirt accumulated over eighty years, was a unique interior of brilliant colors with metallic highlights everywhere, creating a shimmering effect that changed with the light as one moved through the space. Most importantly, the finishes investigation revealed that the main ceiling and side walls had never been repainted.


A watercolor rendering was made to enable the client and designer to glimpse what the theater would look like when fully restored. Afterwords, a full-scale mock-up sample was created in situ, making it possible for all to visualize what the space had once been, and could be once again.

Mural Replication

The mural in the Mezzanine Salon had been overpainted a number of times. Exposure windows established that it would be impossible to mechanically or chemically retrieve the original mural due to the texture of the wall. An innovative technique was developed to meet this challenge—an historic photograph was shot at an extreme oblique angle, digitally manipulated, translated into a series of pounces and stencils, and then transferred onto the wall, producing an exact replica of the original.

Plasterwork Restoration

A significant portion of the Balboa’s restoration involved sculpting and casting. Some of these efforts were anticipated, while other elements—such as the pilasters discovered in the Entry Lobby during construction—had long been forgotten. The pilasters were re-sculpted, restoring the theater with a feature that reflects the original aesthetic of the structure. Within the auditorium, existing decorative plaster elements were restored and used to make molds to replace deteriorated elements.

Historic Finishes

Employing a methodology that aimed to conserve original paint and plaster wherever possible, the intent was to carefully clean the auditorium using conservation methods. Throughout the theater, a careful combination of scientific evidence paired with historic photos allowed EverGreene to exactly replicate the splendid original theme. A unique pair of fountains in the loggia flanking the stage had originally sent water cascading down mountain-esque papier-mâché sculptures. The fountains were brought back into working order and repainted using waterproof pool paints. EverGreene also recreated the ornate plasterwork and decorative finishes on the ceilings of newly opened spaces.

Architect: Westlake Reed Leskosky Architects

Planning: Grime on original auditorium ceiling

Planning: Historical photo of the Balboa interior

Planning: Test locations for historic paint color

Design: Watercolor rendering

Design: Mock-up sample in production

Design: Full-scale mock-up in situ

Mural Replication: Mezzanine Salon before restoration

Mural Replication: Historic photo of Mezzanine Salon

Mural Replication: Mezzanine Salon after restoration

Plasterwork Restoration: Exterior lobby before restoration

Plasterwork Restoration: Exterior lobby after restoration

Historic Finishes: Auditorium after conservation

Historic Finishes: Mezzanine Salon after restoration

Historic Finishes: Ceiling under balcony after conservation

Related Projects