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MMD > Archives > July 2005 > 2005.07.28 > 01Prev  Next


B.A.B. Organ Company and Dominick Brugnolotti
By Matthew Caulfield

The information below comes from Ed Radonic, grandson of Dominick
Brugnolotti, the third of the three partners in the B.A.B. Organ
Company, and is especially timely in view of the impending auction
of the B&B Carousell and its B.A.B./Bruder organ.  The auctioneer,
Guernsey, expects to get $2 million for the pieces, although I wonder
what collector in today's economy is going to pay $40,000 to add one
more carousel horse to his already overblown stable?

Bracketed words below are my additions.

 - - -

    B.A.B. Organ Company and Dominick Brugnolotti

    Dominick Brugnolotti serviced the Gebrüder Bruder Organ on the
B&B Carousell in Coney Island in the 1930s and 40s.  He also converted
it from book music to 66-key roll music.

    I am the grandson of Dominick Brugnolotti.  His wife, Caterina,
died in 1935 when my mom was just 13 years old.  My mother, Catherine,
was the youngest of nine children (3 boys and 6 girls):  Joseph, Aldo,
Charlie, Mary, Clorinda, Flora, Virginia, Eleanor and Catherine.

    My grandfather's shop was located in the Bush Terminal section of
Brooklyn on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 32nd Street.  My whole family,
the Brugnolotti's and the Radonic's lived within 4 blocks of this
shop.  The shop was a 3-story loft type building which is still there.

    Dominick was a partner with Andrew Antoniazzi and Ernesto Bona:
Bona, Antoniazzi & Brugnolotti, ergo: B.A.B.

[Mr. Bona's name is unfortunately misprinted for posterity in Q. David
Bowers' "Encyclopedia Of Automatic Musical Instruments" as "Borna."
I realized that spelling was wrong when I saw the name "E. Bona" on
an early B.A.B. street piano.  I have proof of the spelling "Bona"
in images of B.A.B nameplates -- actually, B.A. nameplates, because
Brugnolotti had not yet entered the picture.  The forename "Ernesto"
given by Ed for Bona is new to me, because I have always known it to be
Ervista.  Ed promises to check this out.]

    My grandfather died in 1958 when I was around 10 years old, but I do
remember him well and I remember vaguely some details about his shop.
I remember a large band organ which had a stained glass depiction of
Mount Vesuvius erupting with the sparks flying up and dropping into the
sea.  The motion was created by a light-wheel behind the glass that
turned when the band organ played.  It played the overture from Faust.
This organ is mentioned in the jacket notes on an album of carousel
organ and music box music in which my grandfather is referred to as
"Doctor Dominick," a nickname he apparently acquired because he was an
organ doctor.

    I was told that Irving Berlin would sit on the steps of the shop
waiting for my grandfather to arrive and would give him original
manuscripts of his songs (obviously before he was well known) to punch
onto organ and piano rolls, so that his music would be heard by the
public.

    J. Lawrence Cook would mark the rolls for my grandfather so that he
would know where to punch the holes.  This was probably for the organ
rolls.  Mr.  Cook and his wife would also play the piano which I think
was hooked up to a roll cutter or marker.  Then my grandfather would
cut the pianola rolls with the Cooks' arrangements on them.

[Art Reblitz wrote to me that he believes that, before Cook became the
company's primary (maybe only) arranger, there were others doing some
arranging for B.A.B., particularly for the larger rolls.  Art has
copies of some of the B.A.B. sheet music that have notations and
writing on them by a person whose first language was obviously Italian
(which would not have been Cook).]


    When my grandfather died, the Antoniazzi's and the Brugnolotti's
sold the entire contents of the shop [in 1958] to two people.  (Bona
was out of the picture by this time).  The roll perforator and masters
went to Mr. Oswald Wurdeman in Minneapolis.  The rest of the stuff went
to Senator Bovey from Virginia City, Montana.  There were organs, hurdy
gurdys, barrel organs, etc., among the many items sold.

[The B.A.B.  equipment was divided up between Senator Bovey and Oswald
"Ozzie" Wurdeman later on, but originally the total contents of the
three floors of the B.A.B. Organ Company went, in two semi-trailers,
to Virginia City, Montana, where Senator Bovey had his frontier-town
museum.  Ozzie Wurdeman eventually took the perforator and some of the
music masters to his family's shop in Minneapolis, where he used them
to produce new copies of B.A.B. band organ arrangements, but by putting
together any combination of ten tunes that a customer wanted.

[The Wurdeman family was well known in the automatic music field as
operators of a Violano and orchestrion service route that covered a
wide territory.  Art Reblitz's "The Golden Age Of Automatic Musical
Instruments" tells the story of both the Bovey and the Wurdeman
enterprises.  On p. 298 there is a list of some of the organs Senator
Bovey acquired in the B.A.B. purchase, and a mention that, as part of
the B.A.B. inventory, Bovey also acquired the remaining assets of the
Molinari Company, which B.A.B. had taken over.

[Beginning in 1953 Ozzie Wurdeman spent the next 19 summers in Virginia
City, Montana, restoring and maintaining the instruments in the growing
Bovey collection, and so he was on hand to help move the B.A.B.
acquisition to Virginia City in 1958.  Exactly how and why the B.A.B.
items were divided up between Senator Bovey and Ozzie Wurdeman is not
made clear anywhere.

[After Ozzie's death, his son, Tom, carried on the repair and
roll-making business.  The B.A.B./Wurdeman perforator and roll masters
-- some masters remained in Montana, where they still are today -- were
bought in the 1990's from Tom Wurdeman by Ed Openshaw, of Rumney, N.H.
After Senator Bovey's death in 1978, his son, Ford Bovey, sold a few of
the Bovey antiques to raise money.  In 1997 the State of Montana bought
the Bovey properties and continues today to operate what remains.]


    We later found out that the Antoniazzi's sold the rights to the
name B.A.B. Organ Company to Gavin McDonough.  My aunt Eleanor became
friendly with Mr. McDonough.  She kept in touch with him for many
years, and members of my family visited his shop, which was in his
home, "Old White' Schoolhouse" (originally a one-room schoolhouse) in
East Burke, Vermont.  He later moved to Long Island, and we lost touch
with him.

[Gavin still does band organ work under the B.A.B name.  For many years
he lived onsite as the electrician for Nunley's Carousel and Amusements
in Baldwin, Long Island, while holding a day job on the Long Island
Railroad.  He still works for the railroad, but now that Nunley's is
gone, Gavin commutes weekly from his home in Richmond, Va.  Gavin
acquired some B.A.B. papers from the Brugnolotti family.  I have seen
a few of them but don't remember now what they were.]


    My mother has lots of paperwork, correspondence, news articles,
etc., relating to the B.A.B. Organ Co. and my grandfather and his
partners.  I hope to photocopy all of it on my next trip to Maine,
which will be in late August.  This way I will be able to supply
whatever information I have to any enthusiasts who are interested.
The auction of the B&B Carousell has sparked some interest in the
organ.

    I am the Director of Music, Organist and Choir Director at Our
Lady of Grace R. C. Church in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn,
only one neighborhood away from Coney Island.

    Ed Radonic <eradonic@verizon.net>

 - - -

There is more information about the B.A.B. Organ Company, and
particularly about its 66-key band organ rolls, on my Wurlitzer 165
web site, http://wurlitzer-rolls.com/ 

Matthew Caulfield
Irondequoit, New York


(Message sent Thu 28 Jul 2005, 16:03:16 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  B.A.B, Brugnolotti, Company, Dominick, Organ

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