The nearly complete Rady Shell at Jacobs Park with the downtown waterfront in the background. Photo by Chris Jennewein

The San Diego Symphony unveiled Thursday what Music Director Rafael Payare called a “quantum leap” for music in San Diego with The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park

“During the darkest time we have kept dreaming together — dreaming really big,” he said at a gathering for supporters at the nearly complete facility on the bay along the Embarcadero across from the downtown convention center.

Rafael Payare examines the stage of the Rady Shell.

The name reflects major gifts from philanthropists Ernest and Evelyn Rady and Joan and Irwin Jacobs, and the symphony also announced it has raised $98.7 million on its way to a $125 million goal to pay for the new venue and support the orchestra in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The symphony plans to announce its summer season on May 21, but the park and its facilities will be open to the general public 85% of the time.

“When I first stood on the stage early in the construction of what would become The Rady Shell, I was surprised at how much I was moved,” said Ernest Rady. “This is a venue that will not only feature our amazing orchestra and preeminent artists, but also be a public park with programming for families, school children, and individuals on the beautiful landscape surrounded by San Diego Bay with our city’s skyline in full view.” 

Martha Gilmer, the CEO of the symphony, said the the transformation of the temporary annual stage into a permanent venue was 18 years in the making, and thanked the Jacobs for their long support.

Martha Gilmer speaks to symphony supporters.

“There are almost no words to describe what Joan and Irwin Jacobs mean to this institution,” she said.

In the end, it took four years to assemble the various planning and development permissions and then construct the shell — an unusually short timeline for a major public project. Gilmer thanked the Port of San Diego for it’s help throughout the project.

In addition to the shell and park, a central gathering space for al fresco dining and socializing has been named Prebys Plaza in honor of the late Conrad Prebys and his foundation. The performance area has been named the Una Davis Family Stage.

Founded in 1910, the San Diego Symphony is the oldest orchestra in California and one of the largest and most significant cultural organizations in San Diego. 

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.