The heyday of the theatre organ was, of course, the 1920s. Everything changed once talking pictures became a reality. A lot of old movie palaces closed down and most of the organs were dismantled. There aren’t many of these instruments still left in their original habitats. Some have gone into pizza parlours, such as at Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa, Arizona. Some have been restored and put back into their original homes. Parts of other organs have been used to create new theatre organs. This is what was done with the massive organ at the Sanfilippo Estate. To give you some idea of just how large the instrument is which occupies Jasper Sanfilippo’s living room, it’s larger than the Mighty Wurlitzer at Radio City Music Hall. According to its stop list, the Radio City Music Hall Wurlitzer is fairly massive.
Another organ in a private home is the Robert-Morton organ in the Cincinnatti, OH home of David and Elaine Billmire. It originally was installed in Columbus’ Empire Theatre, a theatre which catered to the African-American population of Columbus, OH. Robert-Morton of Los Angeles was a very prominent maker of theatre organs. While Wurlitzer may be the best known, there were actually quite a few firms who made theatre organs, even more classically and church-oriented firms like M.P. Möller and Austin.
Here’s a rendition of “Hey Jude” on from the Billmire’s living room.
Speaking of The Beatles, I suppose now is good a time as any to share with you the rendition of “Let It Be” by members of the Sookmyung Women’s University Gayageum Orchestra. The gayageum is a traditional Korean instrument that is related to the Chinese zheng and the Japanese koto. Unlike those instruments, it still uses silk strings, though I don’t think those are being used here.