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WurliTzer OP 2170

The organ as seen today at the Paramount Center for the Performing Arts in Bristol, Tn,

This is not the story of a place but the story of a journey of an organ. The current resting place is the Paramount Center for the Performing Arts in Bristol, Tennessee.

The organ was originally installed in the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, VA in 1931. It was a late Wurlitzer with no primary action on the manual chest. Organs sold to the Paramount chain were built this way to speed production and cut cost. Organ experts who have seen the pipe work have said that this instrument is made up of pipes from an earlier time. A practice not uncommon to the Wurlitzer organ company, parts from repossessed organs found their way into new contract organs. 

At this point the console of the organ becomes the star of our story. We will let the CHARLOTTESVILLE DAILY PROGRESS tell the story.

January 19, 1934

BLAZE AT MIDNIGHT DAMAGES PARAMOUNT THEATRE


Cause of Blaze is Undetermined Today; Three Were in House

With stage furnishings, sound equipment and piano gone and considerable damage done seats and rugs, the Paramount Theatre was closed today following a fire at 12:15 a.m.

The ruin of tangled wire, charred hangings, broken display letters and fallen curtain supports remained, all that was left of the city's largest theatrical stage, though damage to the house itself was slight, and confined to seats on which scattered sparks had started smoldering fires. Fallen plaster and damage to the organ was expected to swell the loss today, all of which was said to have been covered by insurance.

Theatre Unoccupied

Three colored persons, Ed Wilson, Willie Newman and Julia Jackson, cleaners, were in the theatre at midnight when smoke was first noticed there. As one of these ran to telephone the fire department, the blaze burst forth in the
drapes on the stage. Before the arrival of firemen this hanging had fallen to the floor in flames, igniting the organ, parts of the flooring and the screen.

Spectators who arrived before water had been turned on were met by dense clouds of acrid smoke from the burning hangings. With fuses gone, lights could not be furnished for the firefighters.

It was at this time that patches of plaster, loosened by extreme heat in the building, fell with a clatter on seats and in the aisles, while firemen darted about in the murk unable to see above them.

A few moments after second-story exit doors had been opened, releasing smoke from the building, the first illumination was obtained. This was furnished by lurid red floodlights, which picked out firemen in strained postures
waiting with hose in hand for water to be turned on.

Flames which came from beneath the theatre's Wurlitzer were attacked from the fifth row of seats with one stream of water. Meanwhile, another hose poured a steady deluge into the blaze from the stage.

Crowd Arrives

Word that fire had been discovered in the downtown section spread in the district, and many persons arrived on the run, hatless, without coats, and rubbing sleep from their eyes. University students, saddened at seeing a
favorite amusement place in danger of destruction, lined Third Street or attempted to gain entrance through the front doors in spite of the smoke.

The affair was not without its humorous incident. With keys furnished by Marsh Gollner, manager of the place, side doors were opened to release smoke which still filled the lower part of the building. Behind one of these Fire Doors
Chief Page was found crouched close to the floor. Though loudly protesting, he was immediately hauled forth onto the pavement by excited comrades who thought he had been overcome by smoke.

Policemen finally cleared the building of persons standing about with wet handkerchiefs to their faces, and the firefighting went on at a less feverish tempo when all danger to other equipment was seen to be slight.

Scheduled for appearance on the ruined stage today were "Alexander's Variety Wonders," acrobats who have visited the city before.

Officials of the Business and Professional Women's Clubs announced today the donation by Weldon Wade, of the Harry Miller Theatrical Company in New York, of complete furnishings for the theatre which were shipped here to be used
in the production of the Charity Frolics which this organization is sponsoring.

Fire insurance adjusters were at work on the estimates of damage late last night and this morning.

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Now for the rest of the story.

The theatre was interested enough to replace the console. The story goes that the Kimball Company's bid beat the Wurlitzer Company in price and delivery date. So the console on the organ was built for this organ and not something that was stuck on the organ. It has all the features Wurlitzer would of had along with some of the things Kimball included on their consoles.

Coming back to the travels of our organ, the organ was purchased in the 1960's by Mr. Hugh Cummings of Burlington, NC. under the urging of Mr. George Anthony. Mr Anthony, a charter member and Secretary/ Treasurer of PTOS removed the organ from the theater in the back of his station wagon one load at a time and stored it in Burlington, NC .

 In 1974, Mr. Cummings donated the organ to Elon College with the stipulation that PTOS would install it. The organ was installed in the War Memorial Gymnasium at Elon College located in Elon College, NC where it was played for athletic events and public concerts. The console sat in the stands behind one of the nets between the two chambers. The chambers were fitted with not only the standard Wurlitzer theatre shutters  but on the side of the chamber were a set of Wurlitzer Studio Shutters. This allowed even more openings for the sound to fill the Gym. The organ was dedicated by Seale Wright on April Fool's Day, 1980. Without a working combination action I was asked to assist at the console. I consider this the best seat in the house being able to watch his every move and being right between the chambers.

Searle Wright and Buddy Boyd - April 1, 1980

 The Gymnasium was razed in 1984 to provide space for a new building. At that time, the organ was given to PTOS and it was removed and again put in storage.

These two photos were taken while the organ was installed at Elon College

 On August 31, 1989, Mrs. Mary Beth Rainero from the Paramount Foundation contacted PTOS to see if PTOS would consider installing an organ in the Paramount Center. On October 29, 1989, a 48 foot tractor trailer pulled up at H.P. King Co. building in Bristol with the organ where it was stored, rebuilt and later installed in the Paramount Center. Free work space never remains free for long. We were about half way through the rebuild when the word came that we had to move and move quick. A new space was found across the street about a block away. But the organ need to be moved now and in the middle of the week. None of the organ technicians were available so the unskilled crew got some prison trustees to move the organ. Here is where it gets interesting. Bristol is right on the state line between Virginia and Tennessee.  The organ had to be carried across the state line. Well they did it and not a scratch could be found. Imagine the story these guys had to tell on the next visitors day. 

On April 18, 1993, The organ was introduced to the public by Lee Erwin and "The General". Since then, the organ has been refined and regulated. The original WurliTzer relay has been replace by a Uniflex 2000 Electronic Relay System. The organ is used for concerts, public meetings, before stage shows and movies and to play for silent movies.

This installation would not of been possible if it were not for the gifts from the people of the cities of Bristol, Tennessee and Virginia. I must take a moment to draw your attention to the "Acknowledgements" section of this site.

   

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Last updated: 11/30/14.

 

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