The Oregon Chord - Web Page
A CONCISE HISTORY OF OREGON THEATRE PIPE ORGANS
based on the Robert Rickett memoir "The Golden Era of the Theatre Organ"
and added to with information from: Donald James edited by jn
A fascinating collection of remembrances and legends of
Theatre Organs in the Northwestern United States of America.
1A SHORT HISTORY
During the days of the silent movies there were 10,000 theatre organs manufactured and installed in theatres across the nation. Of these, 2680 were Wurlitzers. Wurlitzer was accepted as the Cadillac of the theatre organs. However, there were many other good makes of organs, for example: Robert Morton, Barton, Kilgen, Kimball. All of these made their own pipes. There were Marr and Colton, Smith, Godfried, Page, U.S. Organ and William Wood and these companies made their consoles, chests, regulators and tremolos and bought their pipes from Godfried and Dennison and other pipe makers.
After the "talkies" came into the theatres the great depression was going strong. Neighborhood theatres generally had small two manual 4 to 6 rank organs with the downtown and "near downtown" such as the Bagdad, Hollywood, Oriental, and the Castle in Vancouver had three and four manual consoles with up to 32 ranks.
2THE INFLUENCE OF SANDY BALCOM
Many of the small organs were purchased by Balcom and Vaughn and "purified". The consoles "Balcomized" and installed in churches. The rest were either donated or purchased by individuals.
Colonel Woodlaw owned the Columbia Theatre with a 2/9 Wurlitzer and donated it to the Shrine Temple. The organ was later sold to Frank Alexander for $500.00 and installed in his home by me[Robert Rickett]. After Frank's death, it was sold to Andy Crow and installed in the home of one of his friends.
Colonel Woodlaw also owned the 2/4 Wurlitzer in the Kenton Theatre and donated it to the Elks Club. This organ is now owned by Gerry Gregorius[died 1995 April 18].
For those of you who do not understand the term "purified", it meant taking out the Kinura pipes and junking them or selling them from $5.00 to $10.00 for a 61 note set and also the Xylophone, Orchestral Bells, sound effects and toy counter as well as traps and drums were taken off.
"Balcomizing" meant a two manual console with a third manual added. To make room for the height, there was a 2" slice sawed out of either side of the top of the key desk and a wooden cleat was secured underneath each side and the two manuals were dropped down to this level.
This was a favorite trick of Sandy Balcom of Balcom and Vaughn of Seattle.
The history of where the theatre organs were and where they went and where they came from in the State of Oregon and the Portland area are as follows:
Coming north from Klamath Falls, the Pelican Theatre had a 3/10 Wurlitzer which was repossessed by the company and was resold and installed in the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. This organ was an identical twin sister to my organ from the Castle Theatre of Vancouver, Washington.
The 3/8 Wurlitzer from the Criterion in Medford was bought by Bob Burke who enlarged it to a 3/12 plus a piano and is now in his residence.
The Chief Theatre in Roseburg had a 2/6 Morton. The organ was not damaged after a truck loaded with dynamite lost it's brakes and crashed. The explosion destroyed much of the downtown Roseburg. This organ was not damaged and was bought by Leonard Vernon and installed in his home.
A 2/5 Morton from a theatre in Silverton went to a church in Salem and was purchased by Dale Haskins of Portland as well as the 3/5 Morton from the Granada and added to his 2/22 Morton from the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco via a high school in Piedmont, California.
The Whiteside Theatre in Corvallis donated their 2/8 Wurlitzer to Oregon State University and was installed in Gill Coliseum by Dick Chase of Corvallis.
The Whiteside Theatre in Eugene had a 2/10 Wurlitzer which was donated to the University of Oregon. The organ was badly installed and was sold to Eddie Lippert of Spokane, [Washington] who installed it correctly in his home.
Dr. Dan Andriesen bought the Cargill 3/20 Wurlitzer from the widow of Syl Cargill in Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota. It was shipped in an emmigrant freight car to Cottage Grove, Oregon. It was installed in a special studio building. The three manual console had been very badly "butchered" by Cargill, so Dan hooked a 4 manual Barton console to it. After the first concert, there was a small fire but no damage to the organ. However, Dan soon lost interest in the organ. He sold it off for parts. The 4 manual Barton console was bought by a Californian, who stored it in a warehouse that burned to the ground. It was originally installed in the Minnesota Theatre in Minneapolis.
The Elsinore Theatre in Salem had a 3/13 Wurlitzer which is now playing in a tavern east of Seattle.
The Oregon Theatre in Salem had a 2/7 Wurlitzer that went to a Luthern Church in Seattle.
The Rex Theatre of Salem had a 2/9 Wurlitzer and it went to a man named Bryce in Seattle.
The Parks Theatre also of Salem had a 2/6 Wurlitzer from a store in San Francisco and it went into a home in Redmond, Washington.
The Capitol Theatre of Salem had a 2/10 Wurlitzer that was in the ice arena in Seattle and wound up at the Worlds Fair in Seattle.
The Majestic Theatre of Springfield had a 2/6 Wurlitzer. I have no record concerning where it went.
The KOIN organ came from the Heilig Theatre in Astoria. It was a 2/7 Morton with two Wurlitzer ranks added to it, a Style D Trumpet and a Tibia. When KOIN moved, it was sold to St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Oregon City and then it was broken up and sold for parts by Mike Dillon. The trumpet went to Dale Haskins, the tibia to Bert Hederly.
Bert Hederly's organ was originally a 2/3 Wurlitzer installed in the Peoples Theatre in Chicago and from there went to a church in The Dalles. Several ranks were added making it a 2/5 or 6.
The Liberty Theatre in Astoria had a 2/9 Wurlitzer and it went to the Mayen Theatre in Denver, Colorado.
The Astoria Theatre's 2/5 Wurlitzer was bought by Laurel Ruby of Corvallis.
The Carmody Theatre of Bend was a 2/5 Wurlitzer and was purchased by Jim Collier of Seattle.
The Liberty's 2/3 Wurlitzer of Bend went to the First Presbyterian Church there.
The one time owners of the Bagdad Theatre bought the Egyptian Theatre in Coos Bay which has a 3/10 Wurlitzer and the Rialto Theatre in Hood River which had a 2/6 Wurlitzer. This organ was added to the 3/10 in Coos Bay. This is playable today.
The Noble Theatre at Coos Bay had a 2/7 Wurlitzer and went to the Apostalic Faith Church in Portland.
The Granada Theatre in LaGrande had a 2/4 Wicks which was my first organ in 1940. Two years later I sold and installed it in St. Roses Church and later an employee of mine, Doug Phillips, bought it and Dick Chase and I installed it and had it tuned overnight. This organ is now in Jerry Gaylord's home.
The Liberty Theatre in LaGrande had a 2/6 Morton bought by Bill Bunch of Balcom and Vaughn [who] installed it in his home in Seattle.
The Liberty Theatre in Oregon City had a 2/3 Wurlitzer and the lower manual had a full 88 note key board that played a piano built into the console. It also had a two tracker bar player that operated on vacuum taken from the intake side of the blower. This was in reality an overgrown Photoplayer. It was bought by Cleo DeAutrey and parted out.
4PORTLAND AREA THEATRE ORGANS
The Moreland Theatre in Portland had a 2/8 Morton which went to church in Salem - "purified, of course" - and then it was purchased by a hobbyist in Eugene. Upon his death the widow sold it to Bert Braecher of Golden, Colorado. Ed Maas and I went down and helped him pack it into a U-Haul trailer.
Gellers Theatre (now the Aladdin) had a 3/8 Wood organ. It was removed and installed in a mortuary by Gunther Organ Co.
A 2/5 Morton from the Bob White Theatre is now in St. Patricks Church.
There was a 2/9 Smith organ installed in the lobby of the old Heathman hotel when the building was built. This is one that did not come via the theatre route. It is now in a Catholic Church in Mt. Angel, Oregon.
There was another Smith in a Salem Theatre that survived a fire and was installed by A.J. Chase with my help in St. Stephens Church.
There was a Smith organ in a Theatre in Tillamook, heavily water damaged and is now in the home of Ron Johnson via Ted Marks.
There was a 2/5 Smith organ in the Roseway Theatre. The cable had been cut and the console was in the Roseway Theatre and the pipes in the Laurelhurst Theatre. This was installed in the home of John and Pauline Shultz by Jerry Gilmore. Because of installation difficulties, this organ did not live up to the Schultz's expectations. From there it went to Linfield College and they finally gave up on it too. A woman from Seattle installed it in her home and really made it sound good. I know, because I played it.
The Bagdad 3/10 Kimball was bought by Ted Marks and is still in his widow's home.
The Hollywood 3/10 Wurlitzer was sold to the Imperial Rink and added to a Woods organ and when the Imperial ceased operation as a skating rink the hybrid organ was bought by John Dapalitos of San Diego and installed in his home.
The Oriental 3/13 Wurlitzer was sold to Dennis Hedberg and became the nucleus for the Organ Grinder organ. [To read more about this organ click here]
The Broadway's 4/18 Wurlitzer surplanted a 4/14 William Wood in the Oaks Rink which is now in Mary Pitt's home in Newport.
The 4/20 Wurlitzer in the Paramount, originally the "Portland", was bought by the Forchuks and became the nucleus for the Denver Organ Grinder.
The Portland Liberty 4/32 Wurlitzer was sold to the Seattle Organ Club and Lou DeMollen. After their demise, the Forchuks bought it and Dennis Hedberg added parts of it in essence, the 32' Bombards and the 4 rank Vox Chorus with one set going down to 16' to the Organ Grinder Organ.
The Orpheum 3/10 Morton was bought and installed in a skating rink in Tacoma Washington. This organ is now owned by Dick Schrum of Seattle.
The Blue Mouse Theatre "originally on Washington St." had a 2/6 Wurlitzer which was sold to a Tabernacle on 20th and Hawthorne. Ed Maas of Eugene bought the organ and installed a third manual which came from my Baltimore organ and had gone to Seattle where Ed bought it to "Balcomize" this organ.
The Egyptian Theatre's 2/6 Wurlitzer was sold to the Scottish Rite Temple and installed by Balcom and Vaughn with a "Balcomized" console.
The Oregon Theatre had a 2/10 William Wood organ that was repossessed and moved to KXL radio station located on the mezzanine of the Multnomah Hotel. After KXL moved, the hotel cut the main cable with an axe. KXL sold the organ to Bob Rickett and Jerry Gilmore for $250.00. The organ was broken up and sold for parts.
The Rivoli's 2/9 Wurlitzer was sold to Paul Turchan and is still in his widow's home.
There was a 2/4 Wicks in the Clinton Theatre and was installed in Pearson's Funeral Home: However this installation did not fly. The chests were placed on the concrete floor of the basement. Hence, the magnets rusted and there was no way to get at them without taking all of the pipes out and going in thru the top boards. Balcom and Vaughn installed another organ properly.
I bought the Castle Theatre organ in Vancouver, Washington. It was a 3/10 Wurlitzer which had a Post Horn instead of a standard Kinura.
I also purchased the 3/15 Wurlitzer from the Century Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland. From this organ I got a Brass Trumpet, Brass Sax, Salicional, Quintadena, Horn Diapason and Kinura. The remaining nine ranks with chests, regulators and tremolos were sold to Dick Chase of Corvallis, Oregon. He hooked them into a Page relay and a three manual Morton console. When Dick's health began to fail he sold the organ to Dr. Potter.
The 2/8 Wurlitzer in the Multnomah Theatre in St. Johns was installed in the KEX - KGW studios at the old Oregonian Building. This was a very good broadcasting organ and was played by Glen Shelley. After a fire, the organ was sold by the insurance company to Jerry Gilmore. The pipes were not damaged. I have two of the regulators in my organ.
The Benson High School's 3/10 Kimball came from a theatre in Longview, Washington. It was purchased by the student body and installed by Balcom and Vaughn in the late 30s and also added to by them.
There was a 2/4 Kilgen installed with my help in the Central Theatre (later the Blue Mouse). This became Ted Marks' first organ, installed by Cleo DeAutrey. The Organ is now in storage at Leonard Vernon's home in Astoria.
Jerry Duffy's 2/6 Aeolian-Voety was originally from the Roxy Theatre in St. Helens, Oregon. It was installed and purified by Jerry Gilmore, who took out the horseshoe stop bolster and replaced it with a straight bolster in a Lutheran Church in Ladd's Addition. Jerry Duffy added eight ranks of Wurlitzer pipes and chests. A third manual was added and a horseshoe bolster was built for the console.
The Howard Vollum 4/49 Wurlitzer was originally a 4/33 removed from the San Francisco Paramount by Dennis Hedberg and was installed and added to by him with my help.
The Granada Theatre in The Dalles has a 2/6 Morton which now belongs to Dick Raupach.
The 2/4 Wurlitzer from the Alhambra Theatre (now the Mt. Tabor) went to the Lincoln Theatre and was added to that organ. The organ was purchased by Don Ingram and is now installed in his home.
The 3/10 Morton from the Orpheum Theatre in Tacoma was in the home of Bill Morrison, who added three ranks to it. I bought this organ and went to Mukeltio with my wife. We crated it and brought it to Portland in three twenty foot rented trucks and put it in storage. This organ is now being stored by Ted and Ruth Beecher prior to building a studio to house it.
The Bagdad Theatre of Ballard, Washington had a 3/10 Wurlitzer that went to the Rollerdome in Portland. However, a fire broke out in the middle of the night and the organ was destroyed. The organ was played by Jerry Gilmore who also played at the Imperial Rink. Jerry played for the silents in the Chicago area and he has dedicated quite a number of Barton Organs.
The Circle, Rex (now the Roundup), Ames and Arleta Theatres had photoplayers to cue the silents with. Photoplayers consisted of a double tracker bar and a player piano with a large box on either side. One box contained 3 ranks of pipes operated by vacuum and the other the drum and sound effects. There were leather thongs with a teardrop shaped wooden handle, which when pulled would operate the drums and sound effects. One roll could be playing while the next was being loaded. They were built by American Photoplayer Corp. and by the Robert Morton Co. both of Van Nuys, California.
I bought the Photoplayer from the Rex, attempted to build a pipe organ out of it, gave up, sold it to Milt Hunt of Aberdeen, Washington and bought the Wicks organ already described.
The old original 0rpheum had a straight Kimball. The 0rgan is now in the Hinson Memorial Church.
The 2/5 Wurlitzer in the Peoples Theatre, Portland was bought by Bill Hansen and is now in the Seth Marks Home.
The Roxie of Portland had a straight Kimball that is now in the Bible Church at 33rd and Ankeny.
The Albina Theatre had a 2/8 Kimball that went to the Assembly of God Church.
The Alameda Theatre originally had a 2/4 Smith that was replaced by a 2/4 Wurlitzer from the Highway Theatre at 73rd and Sandy Blvd. The Smith is now in Sellwood United Methodist Church.
The 2/4 Smith from the Bluebird at 27th and Vaughn went to an Evangelical Church in Ladd's Addition.
The State Theatre had a William Wood 2/8. Location unknown.
The Sellwood Theatre had a 2/7 William Wood. No information as to the fate of this organ.
The 2/6 William Wood in the Jefferson Theatre went to St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Vancouver.
The Hippodrome (now the Fox) had a 2/7 William Wood organ. It disappeared in the late 30s. After that there was a 2/4 Wurlitzer installed which went to a man's home on Alameda Drive. He had it for sale for $500.00 for quite some time. No record of who bought it.
Billy Woods did the maintenance work on all of the Jensen and Von Herberg Theatres, of which the Liberty of Portland was one. The 32' Bombards were placed against the back of the Theatre and on the other side of the wall was a shoe store with shelves with shoe boxes on them. Billy had been to a party and naturally he had a key to all the theatres including the Liberty. He invited quite a number of people at the party to come to the Liberty with him and hear the gigantic Wurlitzer. Billy put down full organ including the 32' Bombards and played. The guests in the Benson Hotel which was next door, complained to the desk about loud noises coming from some where, and keeping them awake. The police were called and went in and asked Billy and friends to leave. The next morning the owner of the shoe store came in and found hundreds of shoes and boxes all over the floor -so- he too called the police who asked him how many shoes were missing. He said, "None." The police called headquarters and asked them to read the reports filed in the last eight hours. You guessed it! The "Tuned Earthquakes" as they were known in those days were responsible.
There was a 2/8 Kimball from a Seattle Theatre installed by Balcom and Vaughn in the Portland Ice Arena. With the demise of the rink, it was sold to a party in Lower Alameda and installed by Cleo DeAutrey. The organ was bought by Markworth and installed in his home.
There were two Marr and Colton organs in the Portland area. One in a theatre in Hillsboro and one in the Walnut Park Theatre on Union Avenue.
The organ from the Walnut Park Theatre went to a church somewhere in California. Billy Woods took the chests of the Marr and Colton apart and made templates from them and then made identical chests for his organs.
The 5/24 Marr and Colton that Bill Blunk installed in the Oriental Theatre of Sherwood is now on Crooked River Ranch. It came from Lowe's Theatre in Rochester, New York. The 3/8 Wurlitzer that replaced it in the Oriental Theatre came from a blind school in the Mid-west via Catherine Marks.
The 2/8 Wurlitzer from the Liberty Theatre in Tacoma was bought by Russ Morrel of Salem and upon his death Dale Haskins bought it from his estate.
Uncle Milt's Pizza 3/13 Wurlitzer came from the Orpheum Theatre in Seattle.
Milt's 2/8 Wurlitzer home organ came from the Roxie Theatre, Irvington, N.J. via a Catholic Church in Union City, N.J.
5OREGON ORGANISTSMen organists were
Leon Drews and Ed Hamilton who opened the 4/20 Paramount, originally "Portland" Theatre. Leon also played the Smith at the Heathman Hotel over KOIN every night from five to six pm.
Merle Harrington was the organist at the Roseway Theatre.
Charlie Dawson, Homer McDonald and Clint Mansfield played the Bagdad after Helen Ernst left.
Glen Shelley played at the Liberty in later days, then at the Liberty in Bend, at the Alhambra (now the Mt. Tabor), and also for KGW and KOIN.
Glen and Frank Alexander opened the 3/13 Wurlitzer in the Oriental.
Richard Keats, Charles Murtaugh and Alfred Hay Mallott played at the Liberty. Alfred Hay Mallott composed The Lord's Prayer on the Liberty organ.
Cecil Teague played at the Rivoli and at the Iimperial Rink and also over Koin with Glen Shelley.
Lady organists were
Katherine Custer at the Orpheum Morton
Catherine Alexander at the Rex Theatre in Eugene
Pauline Schulz opened the 3/10 Castle Wurlitzer organ in Vancouver.
Leona Clebenaugh andLeah Holt were well known theatre organists.
Ninah Nichols played at the Hollywood
Dolly Wells played the Castle organ over radio station KVAN.
The world famous organist Jesse Crawford spent part of his young days at St. Mary's Orphanage in Beaverton, Oregon, Then in Woodburn, Oregon where he lived with the parish priest and taught himself to play the piano.
He was a member of the Portland Musicians Union, Local 99 before moving to the Clemmer Theatre in Spokane where he first played the organ.
Later he played at the AlaskaTheatre in Seattle, Washington.
[Information in bracketts supplied by typist].
This article, written by the late Bob Rickett in the late 1970s, one of the founders of the Oregon Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society, has many spelling and factual errors in it. We have published it in segments in our newsletter as it was written...
If you can supply updates or corrections to this article, please contact Don James|
at (503)848-0677 or send e-mail to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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