Theatre - Columbus, OH
Changes to the Theater Organ
At the time of the Ohio Theatre's opening in March 1928, the scene of
the movie industry was changing. In 1926, the movie "Don Juan" was
released as the first feature film with a Vitaphone soundtrack, which
provided a soundtrack synchronized with the film. Then in October 1927,
the film "The Jazz Singer" was released and was the first film to have
spoken voice in a feature film. The era of "talkies" was born.
The flip side to the advancements in the film industry was that the
movie houses which
showed these films suddenly had things they no longer needed,
specifically a house orchestra and/or an organ (and of course an
organist). The house orchestra was the original musical accompaniment
to the films, then the invention of the theater organ and its ability
to mimic the different voices of the orchestra (including percussion)
became popular and began
to displace the house orchestra. But now, not even the organ would be
theater organ market was hopping, builders often ran ads promoting
their products. Here's an ad which ran in the August 1, 1925 Exhibitor's Herald. The
third bullet point probably would offend most organists!
"Encyclopedia of the American
Theatre Organ - volume 2", by David L. Junchen, p. 525
To the right is a
graph from the book "Encyclopedia of the American
Theatre Organ - volume 1", by David L. Junchen, p. 21. As the top graph
clearly shows, pipe organ production (of all types) peaked right around
the time the Ohio's Morton organ was installed. Then with the
introduction of music soundtracks and "talkies", the need to
movie houses with pipe organs was gone. Other factors such as the Great
Depression undoubtedly also helped in the downward trend after 1929. It
is hard to fathom that over 2,400 pipe organs of all types were
produced in 1927!
The bottom graph showing Wurlitzer pipe organ production is simply
staggering. Wurlitzer was by far the number one producer of theater
pipe organs turning out well over 2,000 instruments. By comparison,
number two builder Robert Morton built just under 900 theater organs
(ibid, p. 20).
In 1926 the chart shows a peak of just over 300 organs
produced by Wurlitzer, then three short years later in 1929 the total
is 75, and basically nothing in 1933.
With the theater organ
bottoming out, organ builders had to come
up with new lines of business for their product. Home installations
provided some business (albeit on a very small scale), but work was
hard to come by. Robert Morton even built an organ for a car dealership
showroom! What better way to pass the time while the salesperson goes
away "to run this offer by the manager" than to listen to a happy tune
on the organ.
Some builders were
producing for the classical (church)
market, but builders Wurlitzer and Robert Morton were not. Like other
builders, many of their theater organs ended up in churches via the
secondhand market. As theaters removed the organs from their buildings,
churches picked up the instruments and installed them in their houses
of worship probably for a fraction of the cost of a new instrument. The
scaling and voicing probably was not ideal for a church, but function
won out over form in this case. A handful of these theater organ
transplants remain in churches still today.