THEATRE PIPE ORGAN

This 1924 Wurlitzer Pipe Organ once played in the Rivoli Theater in New York City. Thanks to a team of dedicated movers and restorers, its sonorous tunes now form a chorus with the CITY MUSEUM concerto of excited squeals, peals of laughter, and gasps of amazement.

Wurlitzer Opus 839 had many changes as we installed it.  The purists can say it is not a Wurlitzer since only a little more than half of the pipe work was made by them.  However, it looks, sounds and feels like a Wurlitzer.

The Wurlitzer Pipe Organ at the City Museum started out as an accumulation of parts that had been gathered by the St. Louis Theatre Organ Society (SLTOS) for placement in another theatre in St. Louis, the Granada.  That project fell through (literally, the roof of the theatre caved in).  That was in the mid-1980's.  The organ sat in one of our member's garage until the late Steve Crowe contacted the City Museum owner, Bob Cassilly.  That was in October, 2005.  Mr. Cassilly liked the idea and SLTOS began preparations for installing the organ in a part of the museum that is known as “The Enchanted Caves”.  The Caves are a 10 story atrium in the middle of the museum.  The first 2 floors are a labyrinth, hence the name “Caves”.  The remainder is open with chutes and slides and a skylight on the roof.  The organ console would be in the Caves between the second and third floors. The pipe chambers would be in the museum on the third floor with glass rear walls that made the pipe work visible and the organ would speak out into the Caves.  SLTOS members started moving parts from the garage into a workshop in the museum. This began in January of 2006.  Missing parts were obtained from other sources and some parts in storage were sold to help defray the cost of the installation.  After sitting in storage for so long, everything had to be refurbished.  Meanwhile, museum staff constructed the chambers and did many other heavy lifting projects for us.  We replaced the Peterson electrical relay that had been purchased in the '80's for the Granada with a more modern PC based relay, a Uniflex 2000, that could record organists playing and then play it back like a MIDI.

 After 17 months of designing, moving, cleaning, installing and generally trying to keep from going insane, the organ played from the computer relay in August 2007.  The console still had to be completed with new stop tabs and key regulation.  The first public performance was on October 26, 2007 for the museum 10th  anniversary party with Stan Kann and Ken Iborg playing.  The percussions and 16 foot  pedal pipes still had to be installed in the caves.  This was done in January, 2008.  

The SLTOS had their club meeting at the museum in February, 2008 and all played wonderfully.  Then in June, welders set some of the pedal pipes in the Caves on fire and they were destroyed.  There was also water damage to the percussions below.  The rest of  the organ was unscathed and still played.  The damage was repaired and pipes replaced by the end of September.  So that is it up to date.  Organists come from time to time to play and the museum staff play the organ from the computer almost on a daily basis.  There are plans to add another set of pipes along with a piano and marimba.  Any theatre organ person knows that these projects are never done, only on hold until more enthusiasm is generated and more funds are available.

The nucleus of the organ was Wurlitzer Opus 839, 15 rank Style 260 from the Rivoli Theatre in New York City.  The console, seven ranks of pipes and most of the chests and regulators are from there.  That organ was not complete when SLTOS received it in trade for the Kimball console and some pipe work from the St. Louis Theatre.  Some of the pipe work and chests we used from the storage were from Gus Brummer and the Ruggeri restaurant organ that Stan Kann played in the '60's.  We used a Kimball Pedal Bourdon and chest and the chimes from the St. Louis Theatre. We had to purchase a blower (Spencer), VDO and celeste (Gottfried violins) , xylophone (Robert Morton), chrysoglott (Wurlitzer) and a bass drum and made a post horn from a donated oboe.  Also donated was the Wicks small diapason.  We used a Kilgen Open Diapason instead of the Wurlitzer Diaphonic Diapason.

 

I will try to list all the people that worked on the organ.  I know I probably missed someone who will be extremely annoyed, but here goes anyway.

Al Haker, designer, project coordinator

Jim Ryan, computer guru and consultant

Chris Mattingly, wiring and relay installation (the Rembrandt of wiring)

Dave Bartz, design and builder

Wes Kamischke, tireless worker Steve Crowe, project starter Museum staff, notably, Mary Levy and Daniel Heggarty and many others Wally Dittrich, provided storage for many years and helped with many other things

Mark Lancaster

Rich Iezzi, builder

Fred Jenkins

Russ Bill

Leroy Ettling

Ted Laneman

Carl Vogt

Gary Broyles

Hank Steiger

Dee Ryan

Jo Ann Bartz

Sharon Theurer

Gerry Kamischke

Dan Cotner

Ken Iborg

Steve Koeln

Stan Kann

Jack Jenkins

Jim Grebe

Howard Pfeifer

Jerry Roberts (provided pipes)

Chris Soer (voice and tune)

Richard Wright (provided pipes and truck)

Marlin Mackley (built chest)

 

Lew Williams stopping by to see and play the organ (2008).

Mark Gifford.