In the first thirty years of the twentieth century, a new art form took America and the world by storm. Cinema. Film. Motion pictures. “The picture show.” Whatever one called it, movies captivated the masses in a way nothing else ever had, and our love affair with movies has continued to the present day. The story of the theatre organ is, in a real sense, the story of the movie palace which housed it; and its existence may be solely attributed to the fact that the movies of the time were silent. The movie might be part of a larger show which included musical numbers and stage acts, and the movie itself was shown not on the miniscule screens of today, but on the “big, silver screen.” And, likely as not, that show would include a performance on the giant theater organ which was installed in the auditorium.
The large xylophone looking contraption pictured is the Marimba Section from one of these historic theater organs. We were called in to remove this last remaining section from the upper catwalks of an early New York auditorium. The instrument is signed and dated 1908. It looks to be in amazing condition with only a couple of hammers missing. The metal parts are all nickel plated. We cleaned one key and one pipe just to see what we had… this will shine up like jewelry. As you can see there’s also wood parts. The original theater caretaker must have loved this organ because the furniture grade mahogany all looks as if it was cleaned and polished regularly. There are 49 keys and each one worked on it’s own hammer and each has a resonating pipe. It’s quite an impressive object. All these units were built to order and no 2 are alike. It goes with out saying but I will… These organs are beyond rare. Most theaters could never afford to own one and they were found mostly in large cites. To see one of these in action is a real treat. You can still hear one working in Rockefeller Centers auditorium and the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre. We had the custom rolling stand built to display it properly.
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