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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Steubenville Theater History

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, August 31, 2008

When Sandy Day and I authored the book, "Steubenville, Images of America" in 2005, we obtained a photo of the organ from the Paramount Theater to include in the book.

 

At the time the N. 5th Street movie theater was demolished in 1974, the organ was sold and removed and today resides in Virginia.

 

The home of another Steubenville theater organ has located.

 

The organ from the Capitol Theater, which was located at 4th and Adams Streets, is today owned by the Sooner State Chapter of the American Theater Organ Society and resides in the Technology Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

 

The Capitol Theater closed about 1970 and before the building was demolished, the theater organ was removed and shipped to California where it sat in storage for several years.

 

The organ moved to Oklahoma in the mid-1970s when it was acquired by an evangelist for his church.

 

The Organ Society eventually acquired the organ and installed it in the Tulsa Technology Center's auditorium where it can be used for concerts.

 

Restoration of the instrument was completed in 1987, and the organ is used for a variety of musical programs at the TTC auditorium.

 

The organ from the Capitol Theater is a 1927 Robert-Morton Theater Organ, manufactured in Van Nuys, Ca.

 

Nicknamed the "Wonder Morton," the Robert-Morton organs were named for the first names of the two sons of the company's owner.

 

The three-manual organ was installed in the Capitol Theater in 1927, two years after the theater building was constructed.

 

Theater organs were designed to imitate a complete orchestra and were manufactured during a brief time period of 1915-1930 when movies were silent and needed musical accompaniment.

 

There were an estimated 7,000 such organs installed in America's movie palaces, but by 1935 most of those organs were relegated to playing at intermission, or for stage shows.

 

Many of those organs have been restored in the movie palaces that remain from that era; others like the Capitol's organ have been moved to new locations.

 

About 15 companies manufactured theater organs, with the "Mighty Wurlitzer" being the best known, made by the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company.

 

The largest remaining theater organ is in Radio City Music Hall in New York City, with its 1932 Wurlitzer having 4 manuals and 58 ranks.

 

In addition to the Paramount and Capitol Theaters, Steubenville was the home of the Victoria, the Rex, the Strand, the Grand, the Olympic, and the Ohio.

 

Like most cities, individual theaters in the downtown area did not survive past the 1960s and were demolished for parking lots and modern buildings.

 

The old movie palaces were expensive to operate and typically only had one screen upon which to show movies.

 

The size and grandeur of the larger theaters was meant to provide fascination and an escape for the moviegoer of that era.

 

Next week I will provide more information about the Capitol Theater itself, and information from our research about the 1925 opening day.