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Arts / Entertainment

Resurrecting CSU's mighty 1927 Wurlitzer

March 22, 2012
by Hannah Woolums

Not many people know about the mighty Wurlitzer theater organ, which has been at CSU for nearly 30 years. However, because of the recent renovation of the theater in the Lory Student Center, the fate of the organ is uncertain.
The good news: There are champions of the organ who don't want it to disappear.

The Wurlitzer organ was installed in the LSC Theatre in 1983.John Didier, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, is one such champion of the Wurlitzer. Although he had no formally appointed managerial role over the care or fate of the organ, and no formal or appointed association with the LSC Theatre, he still was fired up to help.

“I became involved when I saw an article in Today@ColoradoState in February 2011, called ‘A Final Bow for the Mighty Wurlitzer,’ which shocked me with its astonishing report that, after its final use in a performance on March 11, 2011, the Wurlitzer would be dismantled from its home, not to be reinstalled as part of the theater renovation – and also not to be reinstalled at CSU.

Shock - and action

“With that shock began a series of communications with many colleagues across campus that resulted in a concerted attempt to locate a suitable new home for the organ at CSU,” Didier says.

 The organ is now being stored in a safe location as construction continues. But as time passes, so does the possibility of the organ being damaged and thus more difficult to reinstall or relocate. 

“Now, it has been stored in a safe, climate-controlled environment, which will preserve the organ's delicate parts for a number of years while a new – we hope on-campus – site for its reinstallation is identified and prepared. There is a danger, however, that, if stored for too long, the many leather and rubber components of the organ's mechanical parts will rot, which would necessitate that extensive repairs be performed as part of the reinstallation.

Quick action needed

“Therefore, we need to act quickly to ensure that reinstallation occurs within the next three or four years,” Didier says.

The organ’s fate is still undecided, but Didier and other people are still working to find a suitable place for its relocation.

“The best scenario would be for us to locate and firmly secure an on-campus reinstallation site within the next several months so that we may develop a reliable cost estimate of the organ's reinstallation in that location,” Didier says.    

During the course of its amazing life, the Wurlitzer has been moved to various places around the United States and has been played my many talented professional organists.

 “The organ was installed in the LSC Theatre in 1983. It was given to CSU by Marian Cook in memory of her late husband, John Brown Cook,” Didier says.

A long and winding road

“This ‘Mighty Wurlitzer’ was installed originally in 1927 in the Picadilly Theatre in Rochester, N.Y., where it replaced a live orchestra to accompany silent films. Later the organ was installed in a private home in New York state and then, in 1965, in the Three Coins in the Fountain Restaurant in Louisville, Colo. There, on the organ, in 1967 legendary organist Dick Hull recorded an LP (long-playing record).

“In 1975, the organ was moved again, to a pizzeria in Provo, Utah. When the pizzeria closed, Ms. Cook rescued the organ, had it rebuilt and enlarged from a 16-rank to a 19-rank organ, and in 1982 donated the organ to CSU.

“The organ was installed in the Lory Theatre in 1983. In 1997, the organ was rebuilt by Ed and Patty Zollman, famed organ installers and restorers, of Wichita, Kansas. The late CSU Professor Bob Cavarra taught organ on this instrument, and one of his students, Mr. Kevin Utter, played the very last concert on the organ in Lory Theatre on March 11, 2011.”

While the fate of the mighty Wurlitzer organ is still being decided, construction on the Lory Theater continues with an anticipated opening date in fall 2012.