San Gabriel Mission Playhouse
Opened in 1927, the playhouse was built for John Steven McGroarty specifically as a venue for his famed Mission Play. The world-renowned production told the dramatic story of the founding of the California missions by the Franciscan Fathers under the leadership of Father Junipero Serra.
Steeped in history, the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse is an opulent theater, with a restored Wurlitzer Theatre Organ, tapestries from the King of Spain, and a beautifully carved and painted ceiling with chandeliers that replicate lanterns used on Spanish galleons.
The architectural style is Mission Revival - the exterior façade was designed to resemble McGroarty’s favorite mission, San Antonio de Padua in Monterey County, California. The interior shows Spanish, Mexican, and Native American influences.
At the end of the 1932 season, following an astounding 3,198 performances, the effects of the depression plus a failed attempt to produce the show for Broadway ended the Mission Play’s long run.
During the ensuing decade, the Mission Playhouse served as a movie theater, its dressing rooms later converted into apartments to help ease the World War II housing shortage. A citizens’ committee was formed during this time to promote the city’s purchase of the playhouse. They ultimately succeeded and in 1945, the playhouse was renamed San Gabriel Civic Auditorium, a name the structure held until 2007, when its original name was restored.