From: Stan Lowkis, May 2004
The true story of El Bombarde
The thrilling sound of this mighty WurliTzer was heard for the first
time by over 3,000 people in the Stanley-Warner Theater at Atlantic
City, New Jersey, some time in 1928. For many years this mogul of the
silent movies delighted the patrons of the Stanley, first as the
accompaniment for silent movies, and later, with the introduction of
talkies, for sing-a-longs. (Remember the bouncing ball? However, with
declining patronage during the depression, the theater owners were
forced to cut expenses. Thus, this organ, as well as most others across
the U.S., fell as silent as the movies they once accompanied.
During 1961 the management of the Hotel El Panama, several of whom were
theater organ buffs, learned of the existence of the Stanley-Warner
organ, now resting under a quarter-century of dust. They had long
dreamed of being able to install such an organ in their own hotel
lounge. Here was an instrument that was surely worthy of all their
aspirations, one of the two largest three-manual WurliTzers ever built!
The purchase was quickly consummated. To facilitate the refurbishment
and removal to Panama of this silver voice of the silent film era, The
Hotel El Panama enlisted the aid of several technical people, including
Ted Campbell, Jack Weiss, and Leroy Lewis. Leroy at that time was the
regular organist on the WurliTzer in the Surf City Hotel, and so was
able to provide considerable technical expertise. Transport to Panama
was via a DC-4 owned by one of the crew.
An idea of the mammoth size of this instrument can be had by considering
that if the entire organ, not including the console, were put into one
room, the room would have to be 70 feet long, 15 feet wide, and 20 feet
high. When the plane carrying the pipework arrived in Panama, the custom
officials, who had never seen a pipe organ, decided that the pipes were
rockets and rocket launchers, and they impounded the plane and its
contents until the problem was straightened out. When the console
arrived by ship, it was discovered that some enterprising seaman had
removed the main cable, which contained approximately 1800 wires and
many hundreds of pounds of copper.
The rebuilding of the organ wasn't much of a problem, but the
installation was. The existing lounge floor had to be jack-hammered out
to get the additional height that the pipes required. A new wall had to
be erected, a new foundation poured, and a new ceiling hung, before the
organ could be installed. On top of all this, the organ had to be
disassembled after its first installation in the hotel, and
re-installed. Finally, around July, 1962, WurliTzer Shop No.1009 spoke
again before an awed and delighted crowd. During the past ten years,
this brilliant instrument under its new name "El Bombarde" has
entertained and inspired over 2,000 people a week from a11 around the
This is from the liner notes of "Pipes Amid the Palms"
- Jon Fisher organist.
The author of the liner notes is uncredited on the album.