The Egyptian’s 1924 two-manual (keyboard), 11-rank (groups of pipes) “Mighty Wurlitzer” rendered music and sound effects for the silent movies and stage events there for some 35 years.
Franz Rath, Jr. of Denver was contracted as head organist for the first ten weeks of operation. Two assistants completed the staff. He was replaced by George W. Young. Then, Gene Halliday headlined at the Egyptian through conversion to sound motion pictures in 1929. Over the years, dozens of musicians performed at the Egyptian’s console. J. Clair Anderson is prominently remembered playing in the 1940s and 1950s.
In 1960, the instrument was removed and the pipes installed at the Organ Loft in Salt Lake City, where they are still heard today as components of a large “Mighty Wurlitzer” there.
In late 2003, Zollman Pipe Organ Services was hired to complete a partially-installed replacement pipe organ purchased by the Egyptian Theatre Foundation. Most of its components were found to be in good condition. However, it was determined that the organ was less than 20% installed, and a July 2004 completion deadline—when the Egyptian would be 80 years old—was optimistic at best.
First, the three-manual white and gold French-style console was shipped to the Zollman Pipe Organ Services shop in Wichita, Kansas for refurbishing. The console originally operated an organ in a Southern California pizza parlor. Its pistons, stops, and miscellaneous controls did not suit the organ’s renewed role as a theatre organ, thus requiring replacement of all inner workings and external controls. It now sports a hand-rubbed black-satin finish, with minimal gold trim, more suitable to its Egyptian surroundings. The console resides below the Egyptian’s stage when not in use, and can be raised to orchestra or stage level for performances or silent film accompaniment.
All wiring, winding and tonal finishing remained to be done. Though many of the components had been placed in the chambers, they were removed, prepared, and re-installed in a manner to allow for more convenient tuning and maintenance of the instrument.
One thousand, four hundred pipes, plus percussions and numerous sound effects, reside in chambers on each side of the proscenium, with some components housed in the proscenium arch itself, two stories above the stage. Each side chamber has a set of shutters which are controlled by the organist’s right foot. They open and close as the means of creating expression, and controlling volume.
The 1,400 pipes, the chest work, the percussions, the blower that provides the air to run the organ, and all elements of the winding system are original Wurlitzer components manufactured in the 1920s. However, a state-of-the-art Uniflex computer control system allows many features that were not available to organists of that bygone era. Also, a theatre as large as Peery’s Egyptian calls for an instrument bigger than would fit in the existing chambers. Therefore, in addition to the 18 ranks—or sets of pipes--there are four ranks of voices digitally mastered by CMG Design. These bring additional sounds to the organist’s pallet of tone colors.
A theatre pipe organ can play almost any kind of music, from hits of the past to today’s music. Show tunes, marches, ragtime, swing, rock-n-roll, country, classical, orchestral—it all can be played on the Egyptian’s “Mighty Wurlitzer” Theatre Pipe Organ. It can be a solo instrument, or play with orchestra or band, or accompany singers or dancers.
This instrument respects the tradition of the past while embracing the modern technology expected by today’s pipe organists.
The Zollman Pipe Organ Services crew clocked 5,000 man-hours to complete the project. And it was completed on time.