THE MIGHTY WURLITZER THEATRE ORGAN COMES TO HISTORIC MUSIC HALL!
 
See images of the Mighty Wurlitzer installation, provided by Glaserworks Architecture & Design.
Watch a video on the Mighty Wurlitzer featuring organ builder and restorer Ron Wehmeier.
See photos from Mr. Wehmeier's workshop, where he's restoring the parts of the organ.
Find out about the Ohio Valley Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society
Once the pride of Cincinnati's RKO Albee Theatre, the magnificent sound of the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ will once again be heard in Cincinnati!

Through the generosity of a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, the Society for the Preservation of Music Hall has arranged for renovation of this remarkable instrument and its installation in the ballroom of historic Music Hall.

It is estimated that changes in the layout of the ballroom, along with installation of the organ, will take 30 months to complete, at a cost of $1,350,000.

It took a "mighty" effort on the part of Norma Petersen, president of SPMH, who coordinated 7 entities to get to the point of making the announcement in July, 2007.
The Wurlitzer Company
The Wurlitzer Company was founded in Cincinnati in the mid 1800s and originally created a variety of musical instruments. The company's most famous product was the pipe organ, which became known as the "Mighty Wurlitzer" a designation which became a symbol of quality. These organs were designed as a "one-man orchestra" and are remembered by many as the "score" or accompaniment to silent movies.
The History of this Wurlitzer Organ
The organ was built for Cincinnati's RKO Albee Theatre in 1927 at a cost of $55,000. The organ was played during the showing of silent films; with the advent of the "talkies" the organ was used for the Albee's stage shows.

In the late 1960s, RKO donated the organ to the Ohio Mechanics Institute, which owned Emery Auditorium and installed it in that theatre. The organ was rebuilt and then heard by audiences until late 1999, when the theatre was closed and the organ was placed in storage.

In 2003, David Klingshirn, founder of the American Classical Music Hall of Fame, was contacted by someone who wanted to fund the rebuilding of the organ. While the donor had hoped to install the organ in Memorial Hall, just south of Music Hall, the Music Hall Ballroom was proposed -- and accepted -- as a more suitable location.

In the Music Hall Ballroom, the organ will be nestled among other Albee artifacts:
pilasters, brass and wooden railings and architectural fixtures rescued by Pat and Joe Perrin and donated for the Ballroom's renovation in the late 1990s.

What's Next for the Organ
Ronald F. Wehmeier will enlarge the Wurlitzer to 31 ranks of 2,000 pipes to include classical ranks, which will expand the organ's repertoire to include classical music. (A rank is a complete set of pipes, like the violin, the flute, the trumpet, and so on.) Mr. Wehmeier will also add a Steinway Grand 6-foot-6 which he has rebuilt and restored. He says "the Steinway Grand piano will be playable from the console at various pitches and it will all come through the new solid-state relay which I'm going to add to it."

Organ chambers for all the pipes will be constructed on the west side of the ballroom. The console will be stained a warm mahogany brown and the Steinway Grand, playable from the console, will be on moveable platforms placed in front of the stage for performances. When not in use, the console will be rolled to a spotlighted, glass-doored storage room on the side of the stage.

Lyn Larsen, a member of the American Theatre Organ Society's Hall of Fame and their 1994 Organist of the Year, will act as consultant in tonal design and layout.

Mr. Wehmeier, organ restorer and builder in Cincinnati, says that if everything works, he would like to have it going by Christmas eve of 2009. He adds that his wish is "a nostalgic thing, since the Albee was first heard then in 1927 on Christmas eve."



See an image of the Hook & Hastings organ that originally graced the stage of Springer Auditorium in Music Hall
 
The Partners for the Restoration and Installation of the Mighty Wurlitzer
 

Information for this article provided by Ronald F. Wehmeier and by Kathy Janson, SPMH and by Joanne Grueter; image of the Wurlitzer organ in the RKO Albee Theatre in Cincinnati courtesy of Scott Santangelo, CAA; additional images provided by Joanne Grueter for both SPMH and CET and by Ron Wehmeier.

Return to the Opening Page