The Virginia Theatre

2/10 Wurlitzer

203 West Park Street
Champaign, Illinois 61820
217-356-9053 (office)
217-356-9063 (tickets)
virginia@cparkdistrict.com



December 31, 2011


April, 2013. Entire organ installed house right


Console restored, March 2012


Wurlitzer opus 490 was installed in the Virginia Theatre shortly before the theatre opened on December 28, 1921. Originally a Style 185 2/7, it was upgraded by Wurlitzer in June 1924 to a Style 185 Special with the addition of the 8' Tibia Clausa. A 16' relay addition was made in 1928. During the 1990's, various minor additions were made, including the addition of effects such as duck call, surf, and jazz/tap cymbal. John-Paul Buzard Pipe Organ Builders removed the Wurlitzer from the Virginia in December of 2010 for a complete rebuild. They began reinstallation of the organ on January 25, 2012 and, as a memorial to Warren York and his years of service as house organist at the Virginia Theatre, have enlarged it to a Style 216, with the addition of two additional Wurlitzer ranks (Orchestral Oboe and English Post Horn) as well as incorporating a 2' Tibia extension originally built by Douglas Cable & Associates (Long Beach, California) in 1998.


A program to rededicate the organ was held on March 31, 2012 at 7:00 PM, with Chris Gorsuch as the featured artist.



On April 25, 2012 and April 17, 2013, Mark Noller gave us excellent preludes to Ebertfest at the Wurlitzer. 2013's Festival opened with a sing-along of "Those Were the Days" before the first screening, with lyrics written by Roger and accompanied by Mark on the Wurlitzer.

On October 5, 2013, Mark Herman, ATOS' 2012 Organist of the Year and 2004 winner of the ATOS Young Theatre Organist competition, presented an excellent program honoring the late Warren York, who maintained the Wurlitzer for nearly 20 years before his death in 2011.



Rank List:

  • Open Diapason (Wurlitzer, 1921)
  • Viol d'Orchestre (Wurlitzer, 1921)
  • Viol Celeste (Wurlitzer, 1921)
  • Vox Humana (Wurlitzer, 1921)
  • Tuba Horn (Wurlitzer, 1921)
  • Concert Flute (Wurlitzer, 1921)
  • Clarinet (Wurlitzer, 1921)
  • Tibia Clausa (Wurlitzer, 1924; 2' Cable & Associates extension, 1998/2012)
  • English Post Horn (Wurlitzer, added 2012)
  • Orchestral Oboe (Wurlitzer, added 2012)

  • Chrysoglott (1921)
  • Chimes (1921)
  • Glockenspiel (1921)
  • Xylophone (1921)
  • Sleigh Bells (1921)
  • Assorted traps and percussions

    Tremulants: Main, Tibia Clausa, Vox Humana, Tuba Horn, English Horn

    A detailed stoplist can be seen at pages maintained by ATOS and OHS.


    David Junchen worked on this organ beginning in October 1963 while an Electrical Engineering student at the University of Illinois, bringing it to life after 18 years. The organ again fell silent after Junchen's graduation but was reawakened 20 years later by Warren York and a varying crew of volunteers. A special variety show on May 5, 1991 sold out the theatre and featured the organ prominently. The audience enjoyed The Chorale singing the music of Stephen Foster, a sing-along using historic glass slides from the theatre's extensive collection, and a demonstration of the Wurlitzer. On December 31, 1991, a near-capacity audience attended the first annual News Year's Eve variety show, which followed closely the format of the May 5 program. Until 2009, the organ was regularly played prior to and during intermissions for events. With the exception of 1995, Warren York played pre-show, intermission, and sing-along accompaniment music for each subsequent annual New Year's Eve program until December 31, 2008, when a plaque was presented to honor him and future house organists. Due to ill health, Warren was unable to play the Virginia's Wurlitzer during 2009, and Michael Hammer took the console for the New Year's Eve program. Hammer played an electronic instrument brought in for the New Year's Eve programs in 2010 and 2011. The Virginia was closed for renovation from May 2012 until early April 2013, reopening with a public Open House on April 13 and featuring Danville, Illinois' David Schroeder on the organ. Schroeder currently provides pre-show music for many of the films shown at the Virginia.

    Those interested in volunteering to play the Wurlitzer should call the Virginia Theatre.


    Warren York

    1938-2011

    Melissa Merli's tribute in Champaign's News-Gazette.


    Milan Digital Audio has digitally sampled the instrument for Hauptwerk version 2.

    Management and Operation since 1992:

    During the first half of the 1990's, the number of area movie screens more than doubled, from 17 to 44, resulting in the Virginia's final showing of a first-run film on February 13, 1992 (Father of the Bride). Local gospel singer David Wyper leased the theatre from GKC Theatres (acquired by Carmike Cinemas in 2005) and operated the facility as a live performance house, featuring local community theatre, touring Broadway productions, country, rock, band, Christian, gospel, and classical concerts. Wyper and a number of other community members formed the Virginia Theatre Group to purchase, renovate, and use the theatre as a place for the Champaign-Urbana community to come and enjoy high quality entertainment. The building was sold to the VTG in December 1995, with the assistance of a loan by the City of Champaign. A new Managing Director, John Eby, was hired in the summer of 1996. In 1998, a public fundraising campaign began, and the Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company merged with the Virginia Theatre Group to form a new organization, CUTC at the Virginia, to operate and manage the historic facility.

    In January 2000, the Champaign Park District became owner-operator of the Virginia Theatre, with Managing Director Barbara Edfors (March 2000 to May 2001), Interim Director Anne Scouffas (Summer 2001), Managing Director Rebecca Cain (September 2001 to Summer 2004), Jameel Jones, Manager (Summer 2004 to January 2011), and Director Steven Bentz (present).

    Facilities:

    A State of Illinois grant of $900,000 as well as forgiveness of loans enabled many needed behind-the-scenes repairs and upgrades to the building, overseen by the Cleveland firm Westlake Reed Leskosky (then called van Dijk Pace Westlake Architects), whose portfolio includes the restorations of Indianapolis' Circle Theatre and Rockford's Coronado Theatre. Decorative restoration of selected lobby panels was begun by Evergreene Painting Studios (now known as EverGreene Architectural Arts, Inc.) in April 2000, to provide an idea of how the theatre would look when the project is complete. Click here for shots of ongoing work. (Historical information and photographs seem to have been removed from the Virginia's web site.) Additionally, extensive work was begun, in order to provide new lobby and restroom facilities, as well as to upgrade those that remain from 1921.

    Other changes to the facility during the summer of 2000 included the replacement of the huge (22'4.5"x54') curved movie screen with a slightly smaller (22'x46') flat screen which can be flown off of the stage. The theatre re-opened without completed restrooms, but CUTC's production of "Once Upon a Mattress" was successfully presented October 19-22, 2000. The footlights were removed on December 28. Accessible restrooms on the main floor were completed in May 2001. The much-needed (and very beautifully finished) women's restroom facility in the basement opened on November 1, 2001. Work began to enlarge and remodel the box office in February 2002 and was completed later in the year. Backstage, dressing room remodeling began during summer 2003, and beautiful new carpeting was installed throughout the theatre the week of December 14, 2003. During the 2003 New Year's Eve celebration, it was announced that the Virginia had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Ongoing work in the basement and backstage since 2003 include star dressing rooms, laundry, kitchen, and shower facilities. June 2005: the orchestra pit has been lowered and the stage modified to be extendable over the pit. Tuckpointing of the stage tower was done during summer 2005 and more exterior emergency exit doors replaced. January 2006: the ceiling (in front of the house, above the proscenium) plaster has been repaired and repainted. Remodeling of the east lobby began in January 2007, with window replacement in September and completion by the end of the year. A new traveling curtain was installed in December 2007. The Virginia suspended operations in June 2010 to enable renovation of the lobby areas, both upstairs and downstairs. Replacement of windows, doors, the concession area, and carpeting continued through mid-November (photos here), and the removal of the neon marquee, which was installed in February 1937, according to the February 10, 1937 News-Gazette, occurred on November 16, 2010. The new marquee was installed August 31, 2011. Upstairs restroom renovation began in 2011, with the men's room finished by December. Sadly, no additional facilities have been created, but the windows overlooking Randolph Street remain. The upstairs women's restroom was enlarged and reopened in March 2012.

    The Virginia closed in May 2012 for final stages of renovation, including elevators and the much-anticipated redecoration of the auditorium (see Broeren-Russo's photos), re-opening with a sneak preview on April 11, 2013 and a public Open House on April 13. The Virginia again closed for several weeks in 2013, for further renovation, which included replacement of the decorative roof above the projection booth.

    Media:

    Champaign-Urbana's local alternative weekly newspaper, then known as The Octopus, ran a feature article on the Wurlitzer in the issue for the week of December 8-14, 2000. The text may be seen here. Renamed CU Cityview, then reborn as The Paper, and again renamed The Hub, it featured the theatre and Ebertfest extensively in its April 26-May 2, 2002 issue, and the article's text may be seen here. The Champaign News-Gazette announced the start of the Virginia's fund-raising drive in May 2002, and has also sponsored a successful annual film series since Fall 2000. They have also contributed over $50,000 to upgrade the projection booth with a second 35mm/70mm projector (which joins the existing veteran of over 30 years), as well as other equipment. A front page article appeared in the March 31, 2012 News-Gazette, and photos can be seen here.

    Local Public Radio station WILL AM-580 ran a six-minute spot as a part of their weekly program Sidetrack on June 6 and 9, 2001. It included an interview with and a demonstration of the organ by Warren York. This file contains the segment, which is no longer available at WILL's site. Video and audio links documenting the Wurlitzer restoration project are here.

    Dreamscape Cinema shot portions of their film, Act Your Age, at the Virginia on June 26, 2005, because of its similarity to a Broadway theatre. The film was premiered at the Virginia on November 14, 2007. Coincidentally, there is a Broadway theatre formerly named The Virginia Theatre, at 245 W. 52nd St., which opened as The Guild in 1925 and is now known as the August Wilson Theatre, designed by the same architects, Crane and Franzheim. Also see the Internet Broadway Database listing.

    At the 15th Ebertfest in 2013, Shatterglass Studios released an iPad app containing festival programs, links to the films, panel discussion videos, and more.

    Roger Ebert:

    Roger Ebert's first Overlooked Film Festival was held at the Virginia April 22-24, 1999. Ebert hosted lectures, panel discussions, and introduced each film. Such a moviegoing experience had been missing in the area since early 1992, with the exception of March 1997's sold out presentation of a beautiful 70mm print of 2001: A Space Odyssey as part of Cyberfest, the University of Illinois' celebration of HAL's birth in Urbana, Illinois, also hosted by Ebert.

    The block of Park Avenue in front of the theatre was given the name Honorary Roger Ebert Boulevard in 2002 by the City of Champaign.

    Photos from Ebertfest:

    Warren York at the console, 2005.
    Again, 2005.
    Another shot at the console, 2005.
    Another photograph from 2005, with Roger. This and the previous photo were copied from Roger Ebert's site before they disappeared.
    Warren York at the console, 2007.
    A good shot of Warren with his red socks at Roger Ebert's site from 2007, near the bottom of the page.

    Organ-related and silent film events:

    Warren York played pre-show, intermission, and incidental music, in addition to providing sound effects with the Wurlitzer for the Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company's production of "You Can't Take It With You" on September 10-12, 1999.

    To mark Halloween 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2005, Warren York accompanied the 1925 silent Phantom of the Opera on the Wurlitzer.

    On April 1, 2005, members and guests of the St. Louis Theatre Organ Society, a Chapter of ATOS, visited the Virginia, and Warren York presented a short program on the Wurlitzer as part of the group's SLTOS Extravaganza.

    For the weekend of February 9, 2003, Cambridge, Massachusetts' Alloy Orchestra appeared at the Virginia, accompanying Harold Lloyd's last silent film, Speedy, and several short films starring Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton.

    In April 2003, The Fifth Annual Overlooked Film Festival featured a beautiful print of the 1926 The Black Pirate in two-strip Technicolor, with accompaniment by The Alloy Orchestra, The Silent Movie Theatre's presentation of The Golden Age of Silent Comedy, with Dean Mora on the Wurlitzer and piano, and The Grey Automobile, with possibly the strangest form of silent film accompaniment: Mexican-Japanese Benshi.

    Alloy returned in 2004, with a stunning print of Buster Keaton's The General, in 2005 with the original 1925 Lon Chaney version of The Phantom of the Opera, and with The Eagle (1925) in 2006. 2007's silent film, Sadie Thompson, was accompanied by the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra. Alloy was back again in 2008 with Josef von Sternberg's 1927 Underworld, and in 2009 with another film directed by Sternberg, his 1928 The Last Command. They ably and excellently performed their fantastic score to Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera in 2010, and in 2011, the new version (with more restored footage) of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, which they had previously accompanied at Ebertfest 2002.


    For further information on theatre pipe organs and the American Theatre Organ Society, please see the Theatre Organ Home Page and ATOS.
    Central Illinois Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society contact information can be found at ATOS' Chapter Directory.


    modified 16 november 2013 by chris anderson

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