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1928 - Christie Organs Start to Arrive


In March, 1928, "Everyone's" contained an interesting survey of the types of music being played by organists and orchestras in cinemas in Sydney:


At this time, with medium-sized Wurlitzers costing from 10,000 upwards, organs were beyond the reach of most of the smaller exhibitors, and it was in the main left to the two major circuits to install them, until the less expensive Christie organs arrived.

Regent Theatre, Sydney

Hoyt's had obviously been well satisfied with the seven-rank organ in the 2000-seat De Luxe Theatre, Melbourne, where it no doubt suited the older-style, more intimate auditorium, which had originally been built in 1915. Hoyt's ordered a similar instrument, only one rank larger, for their new Regent Theatre, Sydney. This theatre seated 2200, but although it might seem on paper that an eight-rank organ would repeat the De Luxe instrument's success, the planners had not allowed for the cavernous nature of the huge new-style auditorium, with its great width, plush furnishings and lofty ceiling. This instrument was not a success, and Roy Devany, the American organist who opened it, played it mainly, if not exclusively, in conjunction with Signor Kost's much-acclaimed orchestra and for film accompaniments. It was never advertised, nor does it appear ever to have been used for solo features. It was soon to be overshadowed by the 15-rank organ at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney, which opened a month later, on 7 April, 1928.


The Capitol Theatre, Sydney, was Australia's first example of what had become known in America as the "atmospheric" style of auditorium, intended to make patrons feel as if they were out of doors, with grottos, statuary and a sky-like ceiling where stars twinkled and clouds moved slowly across. This style of theatre had been popularised in America by the architect John Eberson, and contrasted strongly with the traditional "hard top" school. Atmospheric theatres were considerably less costly to build than their traditional counterparts, and it was at the Paradise Theatre, Faribault, Minnesota, that the oft-quoted instruction to electricians was posted: "Please do not turn on the clouds until the show starts. Be sure stars are turned off when leaving", words, which, as the late Ben Hall observed, might well have come from the Book of Genesis. [Ben Hall, The Best Remaining Seats, Bramhall House, New York, 1961]


Fred Scholl introduced at the Capitol another novelty feature to Australian audiences:

On 29 June, 1928, Hoyt's opened another of their major Regents, this time the Regent Theatre, Adelaide. The organ ordered for this theatre was a twin to that in the Regent Theatre, Sydney, and would clearly be no more successful. It was never installed in Adelaide, and instead, a larger, fifteen-rank organ was ordered to take its place. As this instrument had only left the Wurlitzer factory in America a week before the theatre opened, it was September before Adelaideans were able to enjoy its rich tones.

Until now, Wurlitzer had a monopoly on unit organ installations in Australian theatres. However, things were changing, as in March, 1928, Hill, Norman & Beard in England were constructing a two-manual eight-rank organ in their London factory for the Regent Theatre, Perth. [Hill, Norman & Beard, blueprints for organ for Regent Theatre, Perth, W.A.].

There is some mystery regarding this instrument's arrival in Australia, which would have occurred in the (Australian) winter of 1928. The Regent Theatre, Perth, opened in around August, 1928, having been rebuilt from the old Queen's Hall [Everyone's, 5 September, 1928]. In it was installed, but possibly not in time for the opening, as it was not mentioned in the trade press report) the two-manual eight-rank Wurlitzer originally scheduled for the Regent Theatre, Adelaide. Even at Perth, this instrument was too small, and was soon enlarged with four extra ranks. It would seem that the Christie was installed in the Regent Theatre, North Perth (later the Rosemount Theatre), for a short time in the winter of 1928 [Bell, Max, Perth, letter to IRM dated 30 October, 1975] , and was later that year ["Kinematograph Year Book", London, 1929 edition, lists the De Luxe Theatre, Melbourne, with 1928 Christie installations] moved to the De Luxe Theatre, Melbourne, where it replaced the Wurlitzer, which had meanwhile moved on to the Paramount Theatre, Melbourne.

The trade was soon in no doubt that a second builder was offering theatre organs. On 6 August, 1928, a full-page advertisement in the trade press proclaimed that a Christie organ had been ordered for the Lyceum Theatre, Sydney (where it was to replace the historic Fincham organ originally installed in the Exhibition Hall, Melbourne):

The advertisement featured a photograph of the console of the Christie organ (3 manuals, 12 ranks) installed in the New Palace Cinema, Bristol, England, the largest Christie installation to date, but soon to be overshadowed by Christie's largest-ever cinema installation, at the Regal Theatre, Marble Arch, London (4 manuals, 37 ranks).


For the first time, Wurlitzer took a display advertisement in the same trade press, and on another page of the same issue of "Everyone's" was a smaller panel with a curious drawing showing an organist seated on a piano stool playing an organ console unlike any Wurlitzer had yet built (but with a superficial resemblance to those built for Granada Theatres in England from 1936 onwards) and apparently pumping the swell pedals like a harmonium. The perspective is distorted, for the organist would have had to have arms of simian proportions and very long legs to be able to play seated on a stool well behind the pedalboard!

For the next two years or so the rival builders regularly advertised their instruments in "Everyone's", the Australian cinema trade journal.

In September, 1928, Eddie Horton, whose flag at that time was firmly nailed to the Wurlitzer mast, informed readers that the West Coast Circuit in America, for which he had previously been master organist "embraced over 110 theatres and 85 per cent of these theatres had Wurlitzer Unit Organs installed in them... the Wurlitzer organ lends itself in a far greater manner to the needs of the average organist..." [Everyone's, 12 September, 1928]








Australia was now in the midst of the greatest boom in the building of super-cinemas it has ever seen, or is likely to see. Yet another, the atmospheric Ambassador's Theatre, Perth, opened on 29 September, 1928, with Leslie Waldron at the console of a fifteen-rank Wurlitzer.

Christie was hoping to cash in on this boom, but as yet only two of their instruments had come to Australia, the Perth organ mentioned above, and a seven-rank organ for the Victory Theatre, Kogarah, Sydney, which was opened in the latter half of 1928. Christie had just "missed the boat", as by now the organs for Union Theatres' and Hoyt's remaining programmes of capital city "supers" had most likely already been ordered - from Wurlitzer, the tried and trusted name.

However, the big circuits did not mean everything, and there were "pickings" to be sought from the smaller circuits and independent theatres, where the cheaper cost of the Christie product could prove a good selling-point:

This point was aimed at Wurlitzer, which supplied only standard "stock" models to Australian theatres. There was also an appeal to patriotism:

In the same issue, Wurlitzer also directed its marketing at smaller theatres:

So, with the big city contracts a foregone conclusion, the battle was now for the smaller theatre contracts.

There was one other contender in the lists, the Mustel Organ, marketed by Chappell & Co. Ltd. This was a reed organ, is essence a very sophisticated harmonium:


Their target would have been the very small theatres, for solo use, and to augment theatre orchestras, a task for which they were highly suitable. No doubt, several of these instruments were installed in cinemas in Australia; there was one in the orchestra, played by Leon Foulon, at the Regent Theatre, Adelaide, when it opened, prior to the installation of the Wurlitzer. Several theatres in Queensland are known to have installed reed organs, which were not thrown out of tune by the climatic conditions in pre-airconditioning days.



The "Cinechordeon" reed organ/piano combination and the "Cinphonium" reed organ, both designed for use in silent picture theatres


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