The return of the Wurlitzer
An intricate machine that wowed youth in the 1920s and 30s will again rise from the stage.
A new home has been found for a 91-year-old Wurlitzer organ that back in the day was the jewel in the crown of Auckland’s Regent Theatre.
With pipes that sound like strings, and all the bells and whistles needed to bring a slapstick Charlie Chaplin film to life, it was an entire orchestra played by a single musician.
The magnificent device was now one of only three in the country but has been in shipping containers for the past year after a change of ownership at Hollywood Theatre in Avondale.
Now the Playhouse Theatre in Glen Eden has announced it would construct the space to house the console, and its backstage room of pipes and instruments, as part of a planned expansion.
Stan Henshaw was executive director of the trust that runs the theatre, and said the Wurlitzer was exciting for teenagers back in the day, and its return to him was ‘‘like vinyl coming back’’.
As well as a soundtrack for silent movies, its ‘‘big sound’’ was also used for bringing alive more modern music like ABBA, The Beatles and The Phantom of the Opera. ‘‘People are saying this is technology that shouldn’t have been discarded,’’ he said.
‘‘We were all on edge until the resource consent came through – and now the dream’s become a possible reality.’’
Wurlitzer Organ Trust of Auckland chairman James Duncan said the instrument was housed for 33 years at the Hollywood Theatre and would draw 200 people. ‘‘We are definitely excited to get our ‘box of whistles’ out of storage,’’ he said. The console would be closer to the audience when it was installed at the Playhouse Theatre by mid-2018, ‘‘literally right in their faces’’.
The machine, which began life as a Wurlitzer Model F Opus 1475 in 1926, was insured for about $250,000 and could be replicated but never replaced, Duncan said.
Henshaw said housing the Wurlitzer would be the first stage in a planned expansion of the Playhouse Theatre.
The entire project would cost about $900,000 and included a second storey at the rear of the theatre for a practice room.
Full completion was expected by April 2019.
A deal between two historic charitable trusts, from left: Wurlitzer Organ Trust of Auckland’s James Duncan with Waitakere Playhouse Theatre Trust’s Alan Burrows and Stan Henshaw.
The organ has all the sound effects for a silent movie – including sirens, a car horn, train whistle and electric doorbell.