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Our History

In the Fall of 1929, then-15-year-old James “Jimmy” K. Guthrie posited that communities with access to the arts were stronger and more vibrant places than those which lacked this vital access. Reaching out to musician friends in San Bernardino and Los Angeles, he established The Philharmonic Orchestra which would later become the San Bernardino Symphony.  Their first concert was held the following March and included Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony and Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

San Bernardino SymphonyThe Symphony performed several concerts each year until 1961 when our first partnership with the local Adult School was established. This set the foundation for future partnerships with the local education community. To manage the expanding reach of the organization, two years later, the San Bernardino Symphony Association was formed.

In 1980, the Symphony hired its first paid staff member, coordinated with Local 47 for professional musicians, and changed its name to the Inland Empire Symphony. All went well until the Recession hit the region causing a mid-season cancellation of the two remaining concerts. Shortly thereafter, the Symphony engaged its first Executive Director and hired a musician’s personnel manager. Under this leadership, the organization began to blossom again and, based on recognition of the growing local ethnic diversity, in 1985, the Symphony founded Sinfonia Mexicana bringing Latin American orchestras into San Bernardino.

Throughout the 80s, the Symphony broadened the scope of its concerts to include non-classical fare, held concerts at the California Theatre, at Secombe Lake Park, and in various venues throughout the region. Chamber music groups performed throughout the city and the Symphony added two annual performances at the country’s longest-running free concert venue, the Redlands Bowl. Their Fourth of July concerts brought thousands into the city each year. Toward the end of the decade, the Symphony incorporated, the first student volunteer program was established (still on-going as the Symphony Debs and Red Tie Guys), and the Association became the Symphony Board of Directors.

In 1991, Symphony docents began the in-schools program which would eventually introduce orchestral instruments to over 160,000 students. By the late 1990s, the Civic Light Opera had closed and the City of San Bernardino Economic Development Agency took over operations of the Symphony’s primary performance venue, the California Theatre of the Performing Arts. The 1990s also saw Symphony concerts at Cal State San Bernardino starring Vicki Carr and Maya Angelou.

In 2000, Carlo Ponti, son of actress Sophia Loren, took the helm as conductor. Also, that year the Symphony opened a music rental library named in memory of its donor, James K. Guthrie. In 2003, the Symphony volunteer Guild was formed with an annual fundraising goal of $25,000.

In 2006, an Irvine Foundation Capacity Building Grant allowed the Symphony to establish donor and volunteer management systems, set up on-line ticket sales, and provide training to the Board and Executive Director.

In 2013, the current Executive Director was hired. Shortly thereafter, we began the sponsored student ticket program, Classroom to Concert Hall, which has created a pathway for thousands of families to attend concerts, and we added a second annual free student concert thereby doubling the number of students benefitted to over 3,400. In 2016, another multi-year Irvine Foundation grant allowed us to provide thrice-monthly Fine Arts Lunch Breaks in downtown San Bernardino to enhance quality of life for those who live and work in our city.

Currently, the Symphony maintains all past education programs and provides a world class arts experience for many thousands each year.




Historic California Theatre of the Performing Arts

California TheatreThe San Bernardino Symphony performs its subscription concerts in the beautiful and historic California Theater, right at many music lovers’ doorsteps in downtown San Bernardino. This magnificent performing arts venue was designed specifically to accommodate orchestral performances. Each seat is enveloped by the deep and rich sounds of the San Bernardino Symphony, giving each audience member an unmatched concert-going experience.

Constructed between 1927 and 1928, the California Theatre was opened by Fox West Coast Theaters on August 15, 1928. On June 28, 1935, Will Rogers gave his last public performance at the California Theatre. Less than two months later, on August 15, 1935, Rogers and famed aviator Wiley Post perished in a plane crash in Alaska. In 1997, two large exterior murals of Will Rogers were painted by Ken Twitchell on the east and west facades of the California Theater to commemorate the final performance of America’s finest humorist.

562 West Fourth Street • San Bernardino, CA 92401 (Click here for Map)

Please call 909.381.5388 for further information.


California Theatre of the Performing Arts
California Theatre of the Performing Arts