The Mighty Wurlitzer
Since none of the bond funds or monies raised by the Orpheum Foundation included an organ project, the Valley of the Sun Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society dedicated itself to assembling, rebuilding, and installing the finest Wurlitzer possible. Spearheaded by Bill Brown, Adrian Philips, Lyn Larsen, and Don Reasor, the project advanced on many fronts.
Adrian successfully hammered out a contract with the City of Phoenix allowing the chapter to install and maintain the instrument in return for use of the building several times a year for concerts and programs. Lyn and Bill began locating and acquiring suitable organ parts, while Don headed the fund-raising project.
Bill donated the use of his extensive warehouse and workshop as the focal point of activity until the theatre reconstruction was advanced enough to allow preliminary work to proceed on-site. The city provided much larger chambers than the original, and doubled the size of the swell shade openings, thus allowing the new organ to expand to its present size of 30 ranks, or sets of pipes.
Among the parts collected is a pair of 1948 Aeolian Skinner Violes from the Tabernacle organ in Salt Lake, an Austin Horn Diapason and Principal from the Solo division of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Hall organ, and a Wurlitzer three-manual console from the Paramount Theatre in Middletown, NY. Fourteen of the Wurlitzer ranks are from the Radio City Roxy Theatre, later known as the Center Theatre, in New York City.
Some of the instrument has ties with Arizona theatre
organ history. The Main Tibia Clausa and Open Diapason are from the Fox Theatre, Tucson. The Flute Celeste is the Concert Flute from the Fox Theatre, Phoenix. Unfortunately, the only remaining piece of the original organ from the Orpheum Theatre, Phoenix, original 3-manual, 11-rank Meisel & Sullivan Theatre Organ is the 7.5 hp Spencer "Orgoblo" blower. It assists a 10 hp Spence in providing an adequate wind supply.
By the end of 2003, with many generous donations from members and friends of the Vally of the Sun Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society, we realized our dream of owning the best theatre organ we could have in our Orpheum Theatre, Phoenix! Our debts were paid, and with that, Bill Brown gave the most generous gift of 14-ranks of pipework which he had loaned us to complete the 3-manual 30-rank Wurlitzer.
Visit the Valley of the Sun Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society at VOTS-ATOS.ORG.
From the CD Arizona Stars, Ron Rhode, Phoenix Orpheum 3/30 Wurlitzer, 2004 Roxy Productions. Included with permission from Roxy Productions.