San Diego Symphony Faces Insolvency, Needs $1 Million

Times Staff Writer

The San Diego Symphony will file for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code if the orchestra does not raise $1 million by March 10, officials said Thursday.

The 76-year-old orchestra will fold March 10 rather than operate at a reduced level if it cannot raise the $1 million, said M. B. (Det) Merryman, president of the symphony’s board of directors. The orchestra did not make its Thursday payroll and immediately quit paying all creditors, pending the results of the next 11 days’ fund-raising efforts.

Merryman said the symphony’s fiscal crisis is “way past the Band-Aid stage. We need a total solution.” That requires wiping out a $1.8-million debt, which is expected to grow to $2 million by the end of the orchestra’s 45-week season in September.

The board of directors’ main hope to save the symphony focuses on a patron’s offer to donate $500,000 if the board can raise the remaining $1.5 million of the $2-million debt. So far the orchestra has raised $500,000 in “ironclad” pledges, Merryman said. Board members will be soliciting potential contributors for large donations.


The 90-member orchestra opened the season in its newly renovated Symphony Hall in November, but the festivities were clouded by the debt, which has accrued over the past decade.

In 1981 the symphony was on the verge of bankruptcy, but efforts by the board of directors and sacrifices by the orchestra members, who agreed to a cancellation of the entire summer season, helped put the symphony’s fiscal problems under control until recently.

The orchestra members indicated they would play the next two weeks of concerts without pay.