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Grand Theatre, Adelaide

The Grand Theatre, in Rundle Street, opened on 30 November, 1916 [Dylan Walker, "Adelaide's Silent Nights", Canberra, 1995, p.126]. In 1918, what is generally believed to have been a two-manual four-rank Wurlitzer photo-player was installed in it. It was opened on Monday, 25 March, 1918, when the theatre's advertisement proudly proclaimed:

[Adelaide Advertiser, 25 March, 1918, p.2]

Will Parsons had previously been pianist in several Adelaide picture theatres. He was something of a pioneer in that regard, having been pianist in De Groen's Vice-Regal Orchestra at West's Olympia, in 1910 [Herb Poulton, "West's Theatre, Adelaide", Kino, Sydney, No. 16, June, 1986, p. 6.].

The organ was soon enlarged by Dodd & Sons to about eight ranks. Not long afterwards, a pedalboard was added. A brochure, dated 1st July, 1918, by J.E. Dodd "Manufacturer of Church, Concert, Chamber and Theatre Organs", gave pride of place to an excellent photograph of the console before the pedal-board was fitted, and quotes testimonials from the theatre owner:

[J.E. Dodd & Sons, Publicity Brochure, Prahran, Vic., 1918, p.p. 15-16]

These comments imply that the organ was originally built by Dodd, who was Wurlitzer's installation agent. It is uncertain, as is discussed below, whether the organ as originally installed was a unmodified Wurlitzer photoplayer; all the additions were made by Dodd [Bill Binding, conversation with writer, August, 1975].

The organ was certainly publicised from the start as being built by Dodd:

[Adelaide Advertiser, Saturday, 23 March, 1918, p. 16]


There was extensive press interest in the instrument:

[Adelaide Advertiser, 26 March, 1918, p. 8]

This description raises a number of questions - was it really a Wurlitzer photoplayer to start with? The action is referred to as "electro-pneumatic", whereas photoplayers had tubular-pneumatic action. The references to 40 "drop-stops" and "14 sets of pipes" are equally baffling, as photoplayers rarely had more than a few stops. It seems possible, therefore, that Dodd had considerably modified and enlarged the instrument before they installed it. The photograph of the console after it was enlarged post-installation shows 46 stopkeys.

As recalled by Bill Binding (in 1975), the organ finally had eight ranks of pipes.

His recollection of the specification was that it included the following stops:

Gedackt 16

Trumpet 8

Diapason 8

Oboe 8

Gedackt 8

Flute 8

Viol d'Orchestre 8

Voix Céleste 8

Vox Humana 8

Principal 4

Gedackt 4

Horace Weber suggested it might eventually have contained eleven or twelve ranks .[Anthony Taylor, "Look for the Silver Lining", SA TOSA News, TOSA (SA), Adelaide, October, 1978, p. 6]. He recalled:

.[Anthony Taylor, "Look for the Silver Lining", SA TOSA News, TOSA (SA), Adelaide, October, 1978, p. 6]

Horace took the job, and remained there for the three years, during which various additions were made to the organ. The console was out of sight of the audience, so the sartorial elegance which epitomised his subsequent eminent career as a theatre organist was not yet to be.

"In summer I'd probably play just in a singlet. In winter, I'd have my top coat and everything on."

.[Anthony Taylor, "Look for the Silver Lining", SA TOSA News, TOSA (SA), Adelaide, October, 1978, p. 6]

Horace Weber left the Grand in 1922 to open the Wurlitzer organ at the De Luxe Theatre, Melbourne, and for a short while was followed by Walter Sutcliffe [Baden Pike, "South Australian News", Vox, TOSA (Vic), Melbourne, August, 1966, p. 4]. Although Walter Sutcliffe later featured at the Prince Edward Theatre, Sydney, he obviously could not emulate Horace Weber's success at the Grand, for the organ was closed down in August, 1922:

[Orchestra Goes In, "Everyone's", Sydney, 16 August, 1922]

It was unfortunate that the very talented Adelaide theatre pianist and photoplayer performer Tom King was overseas in 1922 [Dylan Walker, "Adelaide's Silent Nights", Canberra, 1995, p.99], as had he been available to follow Horace Weber, the organ might well have remained in use far longer.

Back to the first days, it would seem that Will Parsons was only organist at the Grand for a couple of weeks. All seemed to be successful at first:


[Adelaide Advertiser, 26 March, 1918, p. 9]

However, as we read above, a change of organist was required, and the following announcement soon appeared:

[Adelaide Advertiser, 9 April, 1918, p. 2]

It is interesting to note that the organ builder was the party presenting Mr Weber, as Horace himself states that he was "recruited" by the theatre owner, Mr Drake.

Horace Weber was an instant success:

[Adelaide Advertiser, 12 Aptil, 1918, p. 8]

[Adelaide Advertiser, 23 April, 1918, p.9]

[Adelaide Advertiser, 256 April, 1918, p. 9]

His programme was detailed in the theatre's advertising some months later:


"On the Grand Organ

Mr Horace Weber (Musical Director) will render

a) At Dawning (Cadman)

b) Broken Rosary (Van Klene)

c) Moonlight Sonata (Beethoven)

d) Melody d'Amour (Shelley)

e) Intermezzo from 'Cavalier Rusticana' [sic] (Massagni)

f) Nocturne (Chopin)"

[Adelaide Advertiser, 2 September, 1918, p. ]

There was no mention in the press regarding the enlargement of the organ between its installation in March and the publication of Dodd's brochure in July.

The organ was eventually sold back to Dodd, who incorporated its parts in several church organs. The Viole and Céleste ranks went to Adelaide R.C. Cathedral in 1926. The switch stack, some of the chests and some of the pipe-work went to Westbourne Park Methodist Church in 1938. The Vox Humana went to the residence organ of a Mr Adams (since removed). The piano was sold to St Peter's Church, Glenelg. The top (61-note) manual was teamed with that from the Adastra Theatre, Port Pirie, in 1946 and used for the console at St Margaret's Church, Woodville. The Diapason pipes were still at the Gunstar Organ Works in 1975 [Bill Binding, conversation with writer, August, 1975].

Diapason pipe from the Grand organ

Grand (then the Sturt), 1975

The Grand Theatre subsequently became the Mayfair, then the Sturt, closing as such in 1976.

Only the facade of the Grand now remains in Rundle Mall

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