hosted on condor3913
 Mechanical Music Digest  Archives
You Are Not Logged In Login/Get New Account
Please Log In. Accounts are free!
Logged In users are granted additional features including a more current version of the Archives and a simplified process for submitting articles.
Home Archives Calendar Gallery Store Links Info
MMD > Archives > May 2005 > 2005.05.03 > 10Prev  Next

Moller Artiste Pipe Organ Player
By Ed Gaida

I have just listed on eBay a catalog of rolls for the Moller Pipe Organ
Player unit which they named the "Artiste". The piece turned up in my
annual spring cleaning. I have had it for 50 years and it is time now
for someone else to take care of it.

San Antonio, Texas' Municipal Auditorium is a magnificent old pile of
cast stone and concrete built in honor of those who gave their lives in
World War One. Until the 1980's, this multi-purpose building played
host to everything from grand opera to the annual Shrine Circus. The
orchestra floor was cantilevered and could tilt forward for seating or
remain perfectly horizontal so ponderous pachyderms and liberty
horses could cavort about!  Grand Opera, Broadway road shows, boxing,
and conventions ... they were all held at the Municipal Auditorium.

The building had the largest pipe organ in town, and attached to the
console, sitting at stage right, house left, was the largest Moller
Artiste I have ever seen.  The organ had four manuals, so it
needed a large Artiste.

In the early 1980's, the building was gutted by fire and nothing of the
organ survived.  Even the echo division, located behind the nose-bleed
seats in the balcony, was destroyed. San Antonio mourned; for until that
day, all high school and college graduations had been held there, and
very few natives had not walked across that cavernous stage, where
Radames could ride his full-sized chariot pulled by three magnificent
steeds in the triumphal scene from Aida. At least one horse usually
relieved himself just after stopping short of the footlights, much to
the delight of the audience! Some of the pit musicians might have also
been so affected, from fear that the horses would not stop at the
footlights. Sort of an extra attraction for the opera.

In 1954 I ushered every symphony concert and every opera performance
that played there. When time permitted, I would go down during the day
and played the pipe organ -- or what was still playable. The City of
San Antonio had ceased maintenance of the instrument years before. The
Artiste player's umbilical cord had been severed, so I was never
privileged to hear it.  Besides, I could never find the rolls.

One stop on the organ that never worked was a four rank mixture. One day
I convinced a stage hand to let me into the organ chambers for a "crawl".
It was then that I discovered just why the mixture did not work.

In what must have been one of the more spectacular performances ever in
the auditorium and unseen by any audience, an organ technician who had
had more than his fill of demon rum, had fallen off one of the catwalks
in the organ and landed spread-eagled on the pipe chest holding the
mixtures.  The imprint of his body was quite evident in the smashed
pipes. I later found out that someone had just disconnected the draw
knob on the console for that particular stop.

In later years, I learned that the Artiste player did not belong to the
City of San Antonio, but had been purchased by Harry Tonjes, the Moller
representative in San Antonio, back in those golden years when the organ
was installed. I went to find Harry Tonjes. What a character he turned
out to be. Harry was one of two men that I have known in my life who
could smoke a cigarette and have the ashes fall off behind their teeth!
He had possession of the Artiste rolls, all fifty of them. Harry and I
never hit it off, mainly because his blood-alcohol level always exceeded
the accepted limits. He died six months after I met him.

In the 1960's I played occasionally in the pit of the auditorium
orchestra. I am a mediocre musician, but I had a union card and that was
really all that mattered. On one occasion I showed up for rehearsal and
noticed that the Artiste was gone. How they got that hulk out of the
orchestra pit is anyone's guess, but gone it was. A later search of the
building revealed the Artiste under the orchestra floor in the basement.

After several years of bickering and fighting, the city was
convinced to restore the Municipal Auditorium. Sadly, the organ was not

In 1972, I received a call about a player piano, whose owners wanted an
estimate. I took down the address and later that day journeyed to San
Antonio's South Side, where the address turned out to be a television
repair shop.  Sitting on the north wall of the shop was the Moller
Artiste or, in the mind of the shop owner, the "player piano."

When I explained just what he had, the owner decided he no longer wanted
it -- it took up about one third of the front of his shop -- and I
purchased it. Moving it to my shop cost more than I paid for it, but I
had a new treasure, I thought.

A call to Moller in Hagerstown, Maryland, put me in touch with John Hose,
who was then running the Moller factory. An hour on the phone with John
gave me more information about the Artiste that I really wanted to know.
That very kind gentlemen, who had worked for Moller all of his life,
sent me reams of blueprints and a spare tracker bar for what had now
become a white elephant taking up an inordinate amount of space in my
small shop.  And Harry Tonjes' widow was most happy to get rid of the
rolls she had!

That was not to be my last conversation with John Hose at Moller. He
invited me to Hagerstown, but regrettably I never went. The roll
perforator and all the master rolls were still in the factory, although
he thought the machine was boarded up in one of the storage rooms.
Later, a collector acquired the perforator, masters, and most of the
other equipment associated with the Moller Artiste.

What happened to my Artiste? Well, I finally sold it to someone who
hopefully had more storage space than I did at the time.

For an in-depth history of the Artiste, consult the  July/August 1992
AMICA Bulletin (v.  28, no. 4_. The article was written by Jim
Weisenborne, who has forgotten more about Moller Artistes than most
people ever learn.

Ed Gaida

Still 16 blocks North of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, where the blue
bonnets are now in full bloom.

(Message sent Tue 3 May 2005, 15:45:18 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Artiste, Moller, Organ, Pipe, Player

Home    Archives    Calendar    Gallery    Store    Links    Info   

Enter text below to search the MMD Website with Google

CONTACT FORM: Click HERE to write to the editor, or to post a message about Mechanical Musical Instruments to the MMD

Unless otherwise noted, all opinions are those of the individual authors and may not represent those of the editors. Compilation copyright 1995-2023 by Jody Kravitz.

Please read our Republication Policy before copying information from or creating links to this web site.

Click HERE to contact the webmaster regarding problems with the website.

Please support publication of the MMD by donating online

Pay via PayPal

No PayPal account required

Translate This Page