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 world.

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.

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