Magazine article The Tracker

Wurlitzer Opus 1587 Providence Performing Arts Center Providence, Rhode Island

Magazine article The Tracker

Wurlitzer Opus 1587 Providence Performing Arts Center Providence, Rhode Island

Article excerpt

OF NEARLY 10,000 theater organs built during the silent-film era, only eight were five-mantia! instruments. The added expense of a fifth manual greatly outweighed any utility; indeed, even four-manual organs were seen as a luxury. The Rudolph Wurlitzer Manufacturing Company built only three five-manual instruments, all of which exist. Only one, Opus 1587, remains in original condition.

Opus 1587 was shipped from North Tonawanda on March 6, 1927. It was destined for Chicago's Marbro Theatre, but was not completely finished for opening day on May 28. A virtuosic fantasy in Spanish Baroque designed by Edward Eichenbaum, the Marbro seated 3,931 patrons on three levels. Given the theater's size, one would have expected a unit orchestra of perhaps 30 ranks, but the brothers Louis and Meyer Marks opted for visual rather than aural impact, ordering Wurlitzer's second five-manual console to control just 21 ranks of pipes.

The organ's tonal design followed exactly Wurlitzer's popular Publix 1 style, designed by theater organist Jesse Crawford for the Publix theater chain. The stoplist of the Publix's four manuals and pedal was copied nearly verbatim, with a new stoplist for the fifth, Orchestral manual. Despite Crawford's insistence against it in the standard Publix scheme, the Marbro organ was delivered with an English (Post) Horn on 15" wind pressure in the Solo chamber. Other departures from the Publix 1 stoplist include the pair of Solo Strings both voiced on 15" wind pressure rather than the usual 10", and the Quintadena in the Main rather than Solo chamber.

As in their first five-manual console,1 Wurlitzer shortened the keys of the upper three manuals to fit five keyboards into their largest standard shell, designed for four. Another physical modification involved further shortening of the key rail above the fifth manual, resulting in stopkeys that are almost unreadable from the organist's vantage point. The organ was shipped with an additional four-manual console wired in parallel to the main console. As a visual spectacle, it proved unnecessary, and was soon moved to the famous Chicago Theatre with its 27-rank Wurlitzer organ. After a brief return to the Marbro, it traded hands several times, and is now in private hands in Australia.

In 1927, Wurlitzer initiated changes in tonal design, most significantly the Tibia Clausa's unification to 2%' and 2'. Wurlitzer and other builders often modified existing organs for such provisions, and at the Marbro, a small switch stack was added to the existing relay in late 1930 for the 2%' and 2' Tibias on the Great2, and the 8' English Horn on the Pedal and Solo.3 Around this time, the three Second Touch stops on the Bombarde were changed to couplers from the Orchestrai on First Touch, and the Solo to Great Second Touch was changed to Chimes.4

By all accounts, the organ was a thrilling presence in the Marbro, with shallow chambers, huge swell openings behind largely open grillework, and the wind system isolated in separate rooms. For these reasons, Chicago theater historian Joeseph DuciBella wrote, "Veteran organists loved to play the Marbro."5

In 1932, the Marks brothers sold the Marbro Theatre to Paramount-Publix, and it fell under the management of Balaban and Katz, the largest theater chain in Chicago. Despite the opening of the palatial Paradise Theatre around the block in September 1928, 6 the Marbro remained successful for many years until, ultimately, a changing neighborhood and the theater's huge size doomed it; in October 1963, Balaban and Katz closed the doors, and razed the building in June 1964.

The Marbro organ was always well cared for by Balaban and Katz, even in later years, when it received sporadic use. As such, it was an excellent candidate for Byron Carlson, a corporate executive and organ enthusiast from St. Paul, Minnesota, who was looking for a large theater organ to install in his home. Carlson contacted Chicago organ technicians John Shanahan and David Schmidt to discuss large organs available for purchase in the city, and on February 14, 1959, he visited the Granada7 and Marbro Theatres to inspect their organs. …

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