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A 1925-ish 3/10 Robert Morton was moved from a theatre (Pantages?) in Spokane and installed in the Wilma well over 30 years ago. It is still in the Wilma.
October 19 is to be the 85th anniversary of KMJ radio. The event is to be held at Warnors featuring the recreated “Rat Pack” that appears regularly in Vegas. They are great! The organ will be used as a pre-show. Wish I could go, but I’ll be on my way to NYC that night. Tickets are available on the Warnors and KMJ 580 websites.
BTW, in case you have not seen it:
Before the previous owner left the theatre, I was able to go through the theatre from top to bottom. This theatre really “got it” from the previous owner. It should be absolutely stunning when it is all put back together. The stage is astoundingly large for a movie/vaudeville house with plenty of wing space. In the orchestra ready room under the stage, I found a couple of what were probably original seat end standards.
Joe pointed out on the Mainzer page /theaters/4405/ of this website that the Strand name appears to have been moved to the former Merced Theatre #1 about 1936. This would make sense to differentiate the older theatre from this present-day Merced Theatre of 1931.
So let’s see here: We have (in no particular order) for Merced:
Elite Theatre (1914)
Merced Theatre (1921?)(Strand, Mainzer)
Merced theatre (1931)
The story I heard from a friend of mine in Merced who had done research found that the present day Mainzer was the original Merced Theatre until the new Merced opened in 1931. (As said earlier, a fire in the now Mainzer destroyed the original organ that was to have been moved (and hopefully enlarged.) This sort of thing happened all over the Valley. The Wurlitzer list shows a 4-rank organ going to the Hanford Theatre in 1924. Huh? The present Hanford opened in 1930. How could that be? Wurlitzer seemed to be using a generic Hanford theatre rather than a Hanford Theatre. The organ in Hanford was in the old T & D Theatre in 1924 and enlarged and moved to the new Hanford Theatre in 1930. No way to prove it now, but I wonder if the same did not apply in Merced; the organ going to the Merced theatre?)
That said, my late friend in Merced interviewed old timers around town who said the Mainzer was originally the Merced Theatre (1). Your time frame above really works for the old Merced, then Strand Theatre (1936). [The Salih Bros. did lots of theatre replastering/modernization. At least two theatres they built from scratch were the 1935 Cascade Theatre in Redding and the 1936 Del Mar Theatre in Santa Cruz. Both of these theatres have fooled theatre experts before, looking like a Timothy Pfluger-design, but not. Here in Central CA, there is still a painting and plastering firm known as Saleh Bros. I wonder if it is not some relation? ] The Mainzer, ex-Merced 1/Strand 2, looked very much like an S. Chas. Lee design. Too much to think about, but, it sounds very reasonable that the Strand Theatre name was moved to the first Merced Theatre to differentiate it from the more modern theatre.
And now an Elite Theatre to research.
There is some thinking that the Merced #1 was also named the Strand at some point. Could be, there were a few Strand Theatres in the Valley, but mostly very old. The Strand in Modesto had a Wurlitzer that was installed in 1918! Monterey had a Strand Theatre of 1917.
A late friend of mine who once lived in Merced, tracked down the information about the Merced #1 and the organ burning up. Ken Roe has the Film Daily Yearbook, but I don’t think his records go back that far. However, if a Strand or Rio shows up on FDY, at least there would be an address to work with.
I visited the Merced Theatre Foundation website this morning. Things are moving along with the fundraising with a nearly $2m grant given for restoration of the 1931 Merced.
Here is something I just added to the Mainzer’s Cinema Treasure’s page blog: /theaters/4405/
Now to add more confusion to things, the 5-rank Wurlitzer went to the original Merced Theatre in 1921. That is a given from the Wurlitzer opus list. In 1920, the Wicks Organ Company of Highland, IL (still in business) shipped a small theatre organ to an unnamed theatre in Merced and was their Opus 311. So now the question, was there a Merced Theatre 1 AND a Strand Theatre—two different locations? It is highly unlikely that on theatre bought the Wicks and then the next year bought the Wurlitzer.
Yes, it was what is now the Mainzer Theatre. The organ was to have been moved to the new theatre in 1931. However Merced Theatre #1 had a fire that took out the stage and organ. As a result the organ was hauled to the dump with the other debris.
It was not much of an organ and without major additions, it would never have been of much use in the new theatre. Style 170: 2-manuals 5-ranks Open Diapason 85 pipes, Trumpet 61 pipes, Vox Humana 61 pipes, Flute 97 pipes, Dulciana 73 pipes plus the usual percussions.
If you go behind the Mainzer Theatre, you can see where the original stage loading doors were—now bricked-in. I have oftne wonderd if the 1930+ redo of the present Mainzer was not done by S. Charles Lee.
The redone interior (after the fire) looks very much like a Lee design. According to some old theatre books which had a bio on Lee, he did the redesign of the marquee on the present Merced Theatre,
circa 1943 or so.
“D”, I have a name for you…and a phone number.
A further point, if I ever get back into the Liberty again, I want to see if the remains of the organ lift are still in the orchestra pit someplace. As I recall, when we were in there in 1982, we did not know there had been a lift for the organ console. The Pop Laval books clearly show the console in up and down positions. It would probably have been an ancient city water pressure hydraulic system rather than a “professional” Otis system such as is at Warnors. (BTW, KMJ radio, www.kmj580.com in Fresno is celebrating its 85th anniversary on October 19 at Warnors. They are going to have a Las Vegas “Rat Pack” recreation which is supposed to be very good. The Warnor RObert Morton organ is the entire pre-show!)
The Golden State Theatre in Monterey had such a system. When we put the organ back into that theatre in 1992, we built a rig with which to pull out the lift piston. It was found to be in remarkable shape, considering it had been sitting in brackish water for decades—the outside was made of brass and did not rust. It was repacked and is still in use.
If you want to contact me directly try
At least in 1982, if you knew where to look, some of the original 1917 design was still in the theatre. The organ screen are really neat—all you can see is the “negative” from where the chambers used to be, but they had a distince half wagon-wheel design to the top of the screen. The organ must have really gotten out as there was nothing in its way.
We looked into the idea of possibly putting an organ back into the Liberty. But, with the lack of fly loft anymore, the stage use is not so great. The idea was that if the stage were useable for live programs the place would be a bit more versatile. The Wilson is now a church and not likely to be a “road house” again. Warnors is, and always has been, THE movie palace in town. So anything at the Liberty has to be new, fresh, and something to stand on its own. None of us wanted to put that much time into such a project.
There are photos of the original Liberty Robert Morton in a couple of versions of the “As ‘Pop’ Saw It” by “Pop” Laval. It was a very unusual and early Robert-Morton organ. I would not be surprised if it was not among the first half dozen organs the company built.
AS I recall, the organ screens are completly intact but are covered over with “modernization” plaster. Just a tiny portion of the original screens are visible—presumably to act as a ventilation duct. The chamber space was still on each side of the theatre.
Now you have to understand, this is how the theatre was in the early 1980s. Who knows what the endless parade of churches have done to the interior.
The windlines from the blower location in the basement were still intact in the early ‘80s. I had always heard that the upper portion of the blacony was not used because it was too steep. I can believe it. The original picture sheet, actually a framed in area of white plaster was still there on the rear of the backstage wall. When the upper part of the fly loft was torn out, somehow this “picture sheet” was allowed to remain.
I will be in Fresno next week and shall see what I can find out.
Also bear in mind, most of the building has a great deal of brick. In California, that 5-letter word can spell death to a building even though Fresno is relatively free of heavy seismic activity.
The Liberty/Hardy’s/Mexico Theatre is, I think, still used as a Mexican Apostolic church. I have no idea as to the actual owner of the theatre.
The downtown revitalization is coming along quite well. As a former resident who now gets back to town several times a year, I can see the changes for the good. The biggest stumbling blosk in downtown Fresno is the Fulton Mall.
The city needs to wake up to the fact the Fulton Mall needs to be reopened as a slow speed, one-way street much like Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. Once the City takes the initiative to clean up the central part of the former Fulton Street, flush out the winos, get rid of the petty 1 hour parking fees and meter maides, the downtown will really come back to life. As it stands right now, there is nothing to bring anyone to the Fulton Mall. Couple that with the snotty parking rules and you can see why the north Fresno shopping malls and free parking thrive.
I wonder if it had a photo-player like the original Soledad Theatre did, two towns north in the Salinas Valley?
Gee, this sounds like the late State Theatre Preservation Group in Monterey, CA. After years of trying to look active a private party came in and bought the theatre leaving the preservation group with some high discount tee-shirts and sweat shirts to sell.
A parting shot of this thankfully defunct group? One of their board members had the brass to ask the new owner of the theatre to place a star in the sidewalk as you enter the theatre hearalding their years of “work” on the theatre. A star on the underside of a toilet seat would have been more appropriate. It is beyond me why projects such as this seem to attract great people with big preservationist words and little effort toward the ultimate goal of saving the theatre.
And, as noted before, this theatre was where Gaylord Carter got his start as a theatre organist at this theatre.
Also, the header on this page needs to be updated. The “Chain: United Artists” should read “None”. UA/Regal vacated in September 2004. The “Firm: Reid Brothers” does not make any sense. The Architects for the theatre were the Reid Brothers. “Function: Movies” whould be changed to Performing Arts.
I am pleased to report that during the last year, the exterior of the theatre was more or less painted to its original color. The large mural from the 1930s on the back of the stage house was not yet restored—seems as though it would have taken about $26K to restore that mural back in the mid 1990s. I could only be worse in 2007. Regardless, the building looks far better than it did in its commercial first run movie days/daze.
Here is an interesting history on the Crump Theatre:
The Crump Theatre had a 2-manual 3-rank Robert Morton pit organ. It is now in a private home in Shelbyville, IN.
The Rialto in happier days: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rlalder/1185389096/ This is a photo from the 1968 American Theatre Organ Society convention brochure thanks to Bob Alder in Hilo.
Are there others?