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MMD > Archives > January 2001 > 2001.01.14 > 06Prev  Next

Mechanical Music on Display
By Robert Tempest

I'd like to throw in some comments regarding postings over the last
few days about the mechanical musical instruments owned by Disney and
Knott's Berry Farm, and the organs of the John Wanamaker Store and the
Atlantic City Convention Hall.

While it is certainly regrettable that Disney and Knott's have given
in to the "every square inch of space has to make a profit" mindset and
thus purged their bottom lines of these unprofitable relics, at least
the machines are being picked up by collectors and not being sent to
the junk heap.  Hopefully some of these machines will be restored and
made available for the public to see and hear, somehow, somewhere.

To give Disney a little credit where credit is certainly due, they have
painstakingly restored the El Capitan (formerly the Paramount) Theatre
on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, saving a truly elegant movie
palace from certain demolition.  Further to this, Disney acquired,
restored and installed the 4-manual 37-rank Wurlitzer theatre organ
formerly installed in the (now demolished) San Francisco Fox Theatre,
which is now played daily to packed houses by house organists Dennis
James and Rob Richards (among others).

To be sure, Disney did all this to attract audiences to see their
first-run movies, but they were also concerned with the historic
significance of the theatre and the organ; they certainly wouldn't have
spent the kind of money they did on the El Capitan if they just wanted
to build a "typical" movie theatre.  Think of the thousands of people
(particularly young people) who are hearing a theatre organ for the
first time, played by world class organists, and in that magnificent
venue.  Surely some people leave there bitten by the theatre organ bug!

As to recent comments on the Wanamaker organ, let me assure everyone
that the famous Wanamaker organ is alive and well.  Though Wanamakers
has undergone several changes in ownership over the last few years, and
the future of the organ was then uncertain, the latest and hopefully
last owners, Lord & Taylor (The May Company) is committed to preserving
and restoring the organ.  In fact, a great deal of the organ has been
restored, including the massive 6-manual console, the Echo and Ethereal

In addition the acoustics have been greatly improved. The heavy
curtains that were once in abundance throughout the Grand Court are now
gone, the upper floors have been converted into office space and those
floors have been glassed off from the Grand Court, this having a
surprisingly good effect on the acoustics.

>From personal experience I can say that the organ has never sounded
better.  I had the pleasure of attending a concert there by Carlo
Curly in April 2000 which was a stunning 3-hour event.  That was an
experience I will never forget.  Even though it was held during
business hours, Carlo was permitted to "let it rip", and he certainly
obliged.  My goosebumps had goosebumps!!

Regarding the Atlantic City Convention Hall organ, while the entire
organ is badly in need of restoration and barely half the organ is
currently playable, there is hope.  The 40,000 seat hall is currently
closed for restoration (a miracle in itself), the first stage of
removing asbestos is nearly complete.

A dedicated group called the Friends of the Atlantic City Convention
Hall organ is working tirelessly to have a study completed on what it
will take to restore the organ, to make the public aware of this
treasure and to secure funding for the project.  Fortunately the
political climate is much improved there and the present hall
management is very pro-organ.  I truly believe it will not be long
before we see the start of the restoration of  the hall organ as well
as the beautiful 4 manual Kimball in the Ballroom.

The Friends of the Wanamaker Organ and The Friends of the Atlantic
City Auditorium Organ are to be highly commended for their efforts.
For information about these groups, check out their websites:  and

Join these groups and help the cause!

Best regards,
Robert J. Tempest

(Message sent Sun 14 Jan 2001, 22:41:35 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Display, Mechanical, Music

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