The Story of our truly unique Mighty WurliTzer
The Theater Organ Society of San Diego (TOSSD) owns and maintains a four-manual/24-rank Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ (shown at right), which is installed in the Trinity facilities located in Spring Valley, just east of San Diego.
Wurlitzer was clearly the maverick of theatre organ builders all through the roaring twenties. The factory in North Tonawanda, New York, had almost a thousand employees in 1926 and produced a complete instrument every day. Instruments were shipped daily in railroad boxcars all over the country, and were exported overseas. The 4/24 ‘Mighty Wurlitzer’ owned by the Theatre Organ Society of San Diego (TOSSD) has a great history to match.
Our instrument is basically a combination of two organs: Wurlitzer Opus #1520, a four-manual, 11-rank organ, originally installed in the Strand Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin on November 27, 1926; and Wurlitzer Opus #0564, a three-manual special, 15-rank organ, originally installed in the Tiffin Theatre in Chicago, Illinois on August 18, 1922.
It was very unusual for a four-manual organ to have only 11 ranks; however, “show appeal” was important when the Strand had it built by Wurlitzer. The Strand organ was moved to a church in Madison, Wisconsin around 1942, and was later purchased by Fred Hermes of Racine, Wisconsin about 1949.
Bill Huck, of Replica Records, Des Plaines, Illinois purchased the Strand and the Tiffin organs around 1955 and then combined them into one instrument. The resultant four-manual/20-rank organ, known as the ‘Replica Wurlitzer’, became one of the first theatre pipe organs used in the early history of high-fidelity (Hi-Fi) recording. When Huck liquidated his record business in the late 1950s, he sold the organ to Dr. Ray Lawson, who then moved the organ to his home in Montreal, Canada.
In 1973 the organ was acquired by Bill and Kathy Breuer, owners of Arden Pizza & Pipes, in Sacramento, CA. After initial popularity and success, the pizza parlor chain fell into bankruptcy in 1996. TOSSD then contacted Bob Maes, an organ broker, and in August of 1996, Maes purchased the organ (which was complete but in need of a major rebuild) for TOSSD. On September 26, 1996, a truck ‘full of organ’ arrived in Spring Valley, it’s current home. Since then, the organ has been fully-restored and enlarged to its current configuration.
The Theatre Organ Society of San Diego announced the Premiere Presentation of its 4/24 ‘Mighty Wurlitzer’ theatre pipe organ, featuring the artistry of Chris Gorsuch at the console, on Saturday, September 11, 1999 and Sunday, September 12, 1999.
A video of how the organ started out at the Arden Pipes and Pizza in Sacramento can be found here. Our Mighty Wurlitzer