From: Allen Walker, February 28, 1998
In Boston, Massachusetts, during the middle to late fifties, the
organ builder and organist Edgar Gress led some volunteers
(including me) in repairing and restoring some of the Wurlitzer
theatre organs in the downtown movie palaces. All this work, of
course, had to be done late at night after the last show let out. I
worked on these projects when I could. I also got to play these
instruments, demonstrating my lack of skill to all present.
The Paramount Theatre (built about 1930) has a distinctively art
deco theme in its construction and decor. In the fifties, Edgar Gress
tried for a long time to find out the fate of the organ that was
rumored to be in the Paramount Theatre.
When Ed Gress and I finally got permission in about 1957 (after
lengthy persuasion of the owners) to go and look at the instrument, we
had no idea of what we might find. We were prepared for only finding
an unplayable heap of junk organ parts, as we had found in some other
theatres. Instead, we found this wonderfully pristine instrument under
a layer of dust, a 13-rank Wurlitzer with a 3-manual console. The
pipes were located in a pair of adjacent chambers above the stage,
speaking through a large grill above the proscenium arch into the
auditorium. The three-manual console with Howard seat was on an
elevator to the left of the stage. It was in great working condition;
only some minor repairs, replacements of a few percussions, and a
tuning were needed to put it into perfect working condition. [In fact,
by 1930 Wurlitzer had solved its reliability problems with
electro-magnets, and had made other design and construction
improvements. This was definitely a lower-maintenance instrument
compared to their earlier ones.]
According to the manager (in the late 1950's), the instrument was
ordered from Wurlitzer when silent movies were still common. When the
theatre construction was nearing completion, the owners wanted to
cancel the organ delivery contract, as it was clear to them that the
use of the theatre was going to be the showing of sound movies, with
no organ or organist required. It seems that the Wurlitzer company
made very strong contracts, and it was easier to accept and pay for
the organ, rather than fight the contract. So, the organ was
installed, used on opening night, and then almost never played after
One thing: the organ had never been voiced for the auditorium; all of
the pipes and regulators were just as they had come from the factory.
Of course, that was just the challenge Ed needed. He opened up the
airways to the pipes, and adjusted everything. The difference in sound
was wonderful. It was a gem of an instrument, and it was practically
BRAND NEW! The instrument made a magnificent sound, and was just the
right size for the auditorium, a middling size movie palace. The last
time I saw and heard the organ, in 1958, it was complete and in
perfect order, with all of the original pipes.
On the amount of wear on an organ: all of the mechanical parts wear
with use. Even the wiring to the console flexes and wears every time
the console elevator operates. When an organ is used for several shows
a day, 365 days a year, a fraction of it has to be rebuilt or replaced
each year. That is why, when we come across an organ that has had its
maintenance neglected for the last several years of its operation due
to economics, it seems like such a daunting task. Simply everything
has to be rebuilt, except some of the basic structures and the pipes.
That is why we were so delighted to find what was like the result of a
time warp: an essentially unused Wurlitzer theatre organ just as it
had come from the factory. Thus, I was saddened to read that the
instrument has been partly dispersed, and is languishing in a
warehouse. I do hope that sometime soon, this instrument can be
restored to playing condition. It should certainly have more years of
use left in it compared to other Wurlitzers, although by now I expect
re-leathering and other restoration work would be needed.
From: Jerry Gould, October 2009
At the time of manufacture, for some reason, Wurlitzer chose to make the clarinet,
and oboe horn out of spotted metal imparting a brighter tone than the typical Hoyt.
It also had a spotted metal quintadena on it, but Wurlitzer had been making them for a couple of years.
It also contained a metal diaphone with tuba size resonators.
The diapason pipes were larger than an open diapason, yet smaller than a diaphonic.
From: Bob Evans, October 2009
The chests had no primaries.