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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 in Tulsa

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, October 23, 2011

It is not often that the library receives follow-up information from someone for whom we performed research, but we have one notable exception.

 

The “Sooner State Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society” located in Tulsa sends me their newsletter from time to time, to let me know what is happening with a former Steubenville historical icon.

 

They are the proud owners of the Robert Morton Theatre Pipe Organ that used to be part of the Capitol Theatre, located at 4th and Adams Streets from 1925-1970.

 

They contacted the library to find any information that may have existed about the theatre and its organ.

 

This month the Society is sponsoring “Pipes and Piano Roll Pizzaz” at the Broken Arrow Campus of the Tulsa Technology Center, which has been the home for the organ since 1984.

 

They are combining their player piano with the Robert Morton organ to present an evening of “lively and fun music of a previous era.”

 

A Workshop is planned for November to learn about the workings of the old pipe organ with demonstrations from the volunteer team that keep the Robert Morton organ operating.

 

Restoration work is underway to replace the leather workings of the 80 year old organ as well as some of its electrical components that are original.

 

The Capitol Theatre opened to the public in 1925.  It was an enormous theatre building with commercial shops filling the façade onto Adams Street.

 

The pipe organ was installed in 1927 to accompany silent movies with sound, and replace the expensive orchestra that theatres formerly hired.

 

Theatre pipe organs had a short life span, as most movies were “talkies” by 1933, and the pipe organ was no longer needed.

 

Most were relegated to music before the main movie feature, or during intermission.  Some were removed and hauled to the dump, others languished under the stage.

 

Of the estimated 7,500 theatre pipe organs produced, only 400 or so remain today, with only a handful still residing in the same theatre in which they were installed.

 

The Robert Morton Company, named for the owner’s two sons, was located in Van Nuys, Ca. and produced the “Wonder Morton” theatre pipe organs from 1924 until the plant closed in 1931.  They were the second largest producers of theatre pipe organs following the Rudolph Wurlitzer Co., which produced the “Mighty Wurlitzer” until 1942.

 

Other church pipe organ companies such as Kimball, Moller, Kilgen, Barton, and Wickes produced theatre pipe organs for the era.

 

The Capitol Theatre pipe organ likely was continued in service for stage shows, and Gene Krupa and Hazel Simpson were listed as organists.  As movies became the sole reason for the theatre, the Robert Morton organ was covered up and the chambers of workings closed up until building demolition.

 

The organ consol and workings were crated up and shipped to Tulsa around 1970 to be used in a church, and later removed and stored until a new auditorium was planned for the Technology Center, where the Society was allowed to install their “Wonder Morton.”

 

Today it is used for concerts, programs and performances. The graduation exercises at the college with “Pomp and Circumstance” played on a 1927 Robert Morton Theatre Pipe Organ must be an event to be experienced.

 

Actually, the “Wonder Morton” has now resided in Tulsa longer than it was in Steubenville, but they still introduce their events with an organ history.

 

Today, the white console of the organ still sports the original builder’s name plate showing it as Serial Number 2872, and some pipes still showing the faint lettering of “Steubenville.”