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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.

Capitol Theater Pipe Organ

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Sooner State Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society of Tulsa has put me on the mailing list for their quarterly newsletter.

 

Last spring, I contacted them for historical information about the former Steubenville Capitol Theatre pipe organ, which they now own.

 

The Chapter and our library exchanged information about the pipe organ.

 

The historical information that I sent them is now featured on their web site at www.theatreorgans.com/SoonerStateATOS.

 

They purchased the former Capitol Theatre pipe organ in the 1970s from an Evangelist in Oklahoma who had purchased it when the theatre building was demolished.

 

In 1984, the Chapter installed the organ in the auditorium of the Tulsa Technology Center’s Broken Arrow Campus.

 

The organ is used by the Society to accompany silent movie showings, and is also used for concerts and events in the auditorium.

 

The current newsletter highlights an upcoming performance by Carolyn Craft, “at the console of the Robert-Morton Theatre Pipe Organ.”

 

The organ was installed in the Capitol Theatre in 1928 to accompany silent movies of the era.

 

By 1933, “talkie” movies had taken over and many of the theatre pipe organs were silenced, or used only occasionally.

 

Many of the old organs were hauled to the dump as the movie palaces were demolished, yet others have found new lives in pizza parlors, new theaters, and even homes.

 

Theatre pipe organs had a short life in American history; most were constructed between 1915 and 1933.

 

The largest manufacturer was the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, who manufactured about one-third of the instruments.

 

Steubenville’s Paramount Theatre owned a “Mighty Wurlitzer.”

 

The second largest manufacturer was the Robert-Morton Company of Van Nuys, Ca. named for the owner’s sons’ first names.

 

Steubenville’s Capitol Theatre had the “Wonder Morton” organ which has been in Tulsa for the past 25 years.

 

The sole purpose of the theatre pipe organ was to accompany silent movies, and replace the need to hire an orchestra and pay many individuals to play in the orchestra.

 

The organs had drums, xylophones, harps, chimes, chrysoglotts and glockenspiels to accompany the movie.

 

The Sooner State Chapter has begun a fund-raising campaign to replace the “relays” on the Robert-Morton organ.

 

They are the mechanism that distributes the electrical impulses from the console to the pipes.

 

In 1984, the original mechanical relays were replaced with electronic relays; and now it is time to replace them again with a new generation of equipment.

 

A note from the Chapter President said that their volunteers have been working to replace the 1928 leather components of the old organ, to allow years of continued enjoyment of the Robert-Morton instrument.

 

It is too bad that none of these instruments remained in Steubenville.

 

The President did state that when the Chapter hosts an event, they introduce the organ as a “1928 model Robert-Morgan Theatre Pipe Organ, formerly the organ for the Capitol Theatre of Steubenville, Ohio.”