Once the pride of Cincinnati's RKO Albee Theatre, the magnificent sound of the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ once again entertains audiences in Cincinnati! Through the generosity of a generous donor who wishes to remain anonymous, and coordinated through the efforts of SPMH, The Society for the Preservation of Music Hall, this remarkable instrument now has a permanent home in the ballroom of historic Music Hall.
Starting in 2007, Ronald F. Wehmeier worked to restore and enlarge the Wurlitzer, which had been stored in a warehouse since 1999. The organ now has 31 ranks of 2,000 pipes including classical ranks which were not part of the original and which 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 also added 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."
Organ chambers for all the pipes were constructed on the west side of the ballroom and are "hidden" behind gold-colored grillwork. Both the organ and the piano are on moveable platforms placed in front of the ballroom's west stage for performances. When not in use, the consoles are rolled to a spotlighted, glass-doored room at the northwest corner of the ballroom. Lyn Larsen, a member of the American Theatre Organ Society's Hall of Fame and their 1994 Organist of the Year, was a consultant in tonal design and layout.
The Wurlitzer organ is nestled among other RKO Albee artifacts, including pilasters, brass and wooden railings and architectural fixtures. These were rescued by Pat and Joe Perrin before the Albee was torn down and were donated for the Ballroom's renovation in the late 1990s.
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.
The Partners for the Restoration and Installation of the Mighty Wurlitzer
- SPMH (The Society for the Preservation of Music Hall)
- Cincinnati Arts Association (manages Music Hall)
- City of Cincinnati (owner of Music Hall)
- Ohio Valley Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society (owner of the organ)
- Ronald F. Wehmeier, Inc., Pipe Organ Service
- Messer Construction
- glaserworks Architects
- The Generous Anonymous Donor
Special Thanks to Philip Groshong, Philip Groshong Photography for photographs of the Albee Mighty Wurlitzer Organ.