The Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater, long a mecca for children, is located in the Palisades area on the south side of Balboa Park, San Diego. The Puppet Theater was originally part of a single, large unit erected for the California Pacific International Exposition in 1935-36 and called the Palisades Building. The Exposition was organized to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal.
The Palisades building became the Hollywood Motion Picture Hall of Fame when the motion picture industry made it their exposition headquarters. It was one of the most popular attractions at the exposition. Later, during the exposition, groups such as the Pacific Arts Association exhibited there. After the exposition closed in 1936, the buildings did not stand empty for long. The W.P.A opened offices for music projects there, where they remained until the United States entered World War II. At that time, the Palisades Building, along with other park facilities, was converted into Navy barracks.
The war ended in 1945, but it was several years before the park buildings were returned to the city, and funds were provided by the Navy to restore them. Acting on the recommendation of Leo B. Calland, the first Parks and Recreation Director, the Palisades Building was divided into three sections: a little theater on the north end, an arts and crafts center on the south end, and a recital hall in the center. The 234 seat theater, planned for family type entertainment, became The Puppet Theater.
In 1947, the first public performance at the Puppet Theater was a marionette show given by Marie Hitchcock and her sister, Genevieve Engman. Under sponsorship of the Park and Recreation Department, the sisters gave shows at the theater every June, July, and August, some in October and always in December. After Genevieve was injured in 1963, Marie continued performing in the Puppet Theater until she died in 1994. The theater was named in Marie's honor in 1988.
The San Diego Junior Theater shared the theater building with puppeteers for twenty years from 1951 through 1971 when the Junior Theater moved to its present quarters at the Casa del Prado.
Puppet performances were provided through the San Diego Guild of Puppetry which organized a summer performing series beginning in 1964 and in 1983 expanded to a year round schedule.
San Diego's Balboa Park Puppet Guild was formed in 2001 with the mission of operating the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater. The Balboa Park Puppet Guild offers workshops, apprentice opportunities, children's programs and a year round performance schedule offering shows Wednesdays through Sundays.