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 donor who wishes to remain anonymous, and coordinated through the efforts of SPMH, this remarkable instrument now has a permanent home in the ballroom of historic Music Hall.
The Resurrection of the Mighty Wurlitzer
Starting in 2007, Ronald F. Wehmeier worked to restore and enlarge it.
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. (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 rebuilt and restored. The Steinway will be playable from the console at various pitches and it will all come through the new solid-state relay.See Photos from the Construction & Installation
In Music Hall
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.Here's a Rundown of the Dedication Concert
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. A theatre organ was played during the showing of silent films but as the organ was being installed, the "talkies" arrived.
The organ then 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. The organ was placed in storage under the care of the Ohio Valley chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society.
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.
Top organ Image credit: Philip Groshong Photography.