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Does the Merced Theatre Foundation have a website yet?
I recall seeing the American Theatre being demolished in the late 1970s. I service the pipe organs in Kingsburg and always wondered if the American Theatre was old enough to have had a pipe organ.
It turns out the theatre did have a pipe organ. According to the late David L. Junchen, the American Theatre had a 2 manual 8 rank “Beethoven” organ. For whatever reason, this was actually a Wicks organ. There were a number of area churches that had Wicks organs, including First Methodist in Kingsburg. The “Beethoven” nameplate may have been a smoke-screen for the church organ market.
There were chinchillas being raised in the theatre prior to demolition. The interior was also painted-out in that peculiar pepto bismal pink so often found in theatre remodels. All auditorium surfaces were pink. One of the wooden (not plaster) organ screens was seen in the rubble. I “braved” the rubble and came out with a non-descript “exit” sign.
I remember the American Theatre vertical sign—topped with an American Indian in full head-dress.
A Mennonite church in nearby Reedley had a transplanted Wicks theatre organ. I would not be the least bit surprised if this organ had not originally been in the American Theatre. I have no idea what became of the Wicks theatre organ when the Mennonite church sold the organ to an enthusiast and installed a new 25 rank Casavant circa 1978.
Point of fact, the standard style B Wurlitzer was not equipped with a “piano-style console”. The style B normally had a stock 2 manual “circular” console with 3 pistons per manual. There were around 225 style B organs built.
The style 135 (around 203 built), also 2 manuals and 4 ranks did have a piano console as did the style 1,2,105,108,109,110,120,125,130,160,A,L,V midget style theatre organs by Wurlitzer. Around 500+ piano console Wurlitzer organs were built from 3 ranks to 8 ranks.
About the only real difference between a style B and a 135 was the console type and the fact that the style B had an extra 12 treble pipes for the 2' Flute Piccolo. There were probably some differences in the traps supplied, but those varied from instrument to instrument anyway.
There is another theatre in Dinuba a few blocks south on L Street, on the same side as the Strand/State Theatre. I have no idea what the name of this theatre might have been. Perhaps it was known as the Dinuba Theatre mentioned elsewhere in this list. The Fly is clearly visible from a side street where it backs up to an alley east of the theatre.
It is my understanding the theatre was converted to a bowling alley.
I have no idea if this building is still used or not.
Another organist at the Strand/State theatre was Verne Clifton. For years and years, Verne has been the organist for First United Methodist Church just a couple blocks from the Strand. Verne had been a music teacher at the local high school for years and years.
I saw Verne this last June (at Warnors Theatre in Fresno…) and he is still going strong at 88.
The church where he plays the organ was originally given the 2 manual 4 rank style B Wurlitzer from the Strand/State Theatre. The church decided that this organ would not suit their needs and purchased a 2 manual 8 rank Robert Morton residence organ built in 1922 for the Ruth Anderson residence in Hollywood.
The Strand/State organ was then sold to Richard S. Villemin in nearby Porterville. Richard tripled the size of the organ and added a style R Wurlitzer roll player. The organ was used for a number of recordings of Wurlitzer rolls cut by the theatre organ legend, Jesse Crawford. For better or for worse, Richard converted the original 2-manual Strand/State Wurlitzer console into a hodge-podge 4 manual built up from 2 2-manual consoles.
After Richard’s passing in October 1987, the organ was given to the local Sequoia Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society. I last saw the organ (console, seven remaining sets of pipes, and all percussions) in storage, in Fresno circa 1997. I have no idea what became of the organ after that. A few sets of pipes that Richard added to the Strand/State organ were acquired by his sister Ruth and those now reside in the 4 manual 22 rank Wurlitzer she donated to the Fox Theatre in Visalia. (Ruth also donated the fine style 216 copy Wurlitzer organ that is in the Fox Theatre in Hanford.)
When the Apostolic Church purchased the theatre, they did little to improve the situation. What little was left of the interior, was scraped down to the 2 x 8 wall studs. Only the proscenium arch and orchestra pit remained unscathed. I was able to sneak into the theatre prior to the church’s destruction of the interior.
The interior must have undergone a remodel at some time. There was no evidence of organ screen(s)—just flat surfaces with murals painted on them. There wasn’t even any framing visible where the organ screen(s) might have been once the church scraped the plaster off the walls.
Sometime after this, the church lost interest in the project and walked away from it—leaving a gutted auditorium with little left
from its opening in 1922.
I had no idea that there were several theatres in this area. What I recall of the Washington and Vermont area is the large number of mortuary businesses.
I bought my tiny Wurlitzer from the Bresee Bros. and Gilette Mortuary on Washington. The organ came from the Kinema Theatre (after being repo’d from the G.A. Bush Theatre in San Diego)several miles south of this area in what is now Florence-Graham/Huntington Park.
What a beuatiful facade! That photo is sickening. I have to wonder if the architect for that theatre was A. W. Cornelius. He designed very similar facades for the T & D theatres in Salinas, Richmond, and the California Theatre in Pittsburg, CA. The Cal in P'burg is being restored.
With an exterior like that, I can only imagine what the interior must have been like. A good friend of mine, the late Ron Musselman who put many theatre interiors into his artwork, said the theatre was beuatiful on the inside. He said the organ screens were properly lit, and the building seemed well cared for in every way.
He did ask it the organ was still there and was told much of what I previously posted above.
Too bad that photo cannot be scanned and posted someplace. I have never seen a photo of the Obispo.
Exactly. Wow! I am halfway impressed with myself for sort of recalling that the Bush/Capri had either a Link or Kilgen. Link was a very rare instrument this far west of New York.
Opus 777 is a piano console (one of fewer than 10 intact electro-pneumatic piano console organs left in the world.) The organ was in:
Opus 777 (1924)
A (G.A.) Bush Theatre San Diego style 109B (actually a 109-C)
B Kinema Theatre (Florence)-Graham
C Bressee Bros. Mortu. LA
D Tom DeLay Res. Fresno, CA
E Tom DeLay Res. Salinas, CA
The organ was reposessed by Wurlitzer from the Bush Theatre and sent to the Kinema Theatre in Graham (Florence-Graham/Huntington Park)
As I mentioned in an earlier posting, another area theatre, the Graham Theatre, contained Opus 860 Wurlitzer, a style B of 2 manuals and 4 ranks. It was reposessed and sent to the original Hanford Theatre and then rebuilt for the new Fox Hanford Theatre in 1930.
I wonder if the Kinema and the Graham Theatres may have actually been the same theatre renamed???
Yes, I saw mention of the Bush Theatre in the theatre section of the San Diego Historical Society pages. It must not have been a very large theatre with just a tiny 3-rank Wurlitzer. The organ was repo'ed and then sent north.
Somewhere, I read that there was a later and larger Bush Theatre, undoubtedly the Egyptian, but it did not have a Wurlitzer. Without my other lists in front of me, I have no idea what organ was in the Egyptian. It was not a Robert Morton—as I just checked the on-line version of that list. Seems to me it was a Link or Kilgen. Can’t recall.
Thanks for the sleuthing Joe. As we communicated on the Compton Ave. Kinema page, that SW corner of Firestone and Compton is now occupied by what looks to be a modern structure with lots of parking lot around it. Oh well. I have an e-mail out to Ken Roe to see if he can find any info on what was probably nearby—the Graham Theatre—possibly on Graham Ave?? The 4 rank Wurlitzer in that theatre, Opus 860, was repo'ed and sent to the original Hanford Theatre and enlarged when the new present Hanford Fox opened in 1930.
I am rather excited by all this. I have been trying to find out information on the first and second theatre homes of my little Wurlitzer since I bought it in 1982. When I bought the organ, it was located in a mortuary out on West Vermont—on mortuary row—not too far from the Florence-Graham location. All very insteresting.
>Does anyone know if this theatre had a small Wurlitzer pipe organ >circa 1924?
>posted by Tom DeLay on Jun 15, 2005 at 10:28pm
The entry above has been solved. The organ mentioned in the June 2005 posting was in the San Diego (G.A.) Bush Theatre, installed in 1924. Thus it was not in the Aztec. The organ was repo'ed and sent to the South Central LA Kinema Theatre on Compton Ave.
Very interesting Joe. A couple nights ago I “googled” Graham, CA and without any hesitation it came up with Florence-Graham. I suspect it was named for the intersection of the east-west Florence Ave and Graham. (Go far enough west and you will be on a runway at LAX!)
I used the “map” provided for on this website and clicked on the satellite view and got to the intersection of Firestone and Compton.
The SW corner is where the map arrow insists 8607 Compton Ave is/was.
From the aerial view, it looks as if the entire block was leveled and two new buildings with lots of blacktop surrounding them now exists on the site of the old Kinema. This is certainly the theatre
where my little 2 manual 3 rank Wurlitzer came from, mentioned above.
There was another theatre in the area that, according to the Wurlitzer shipment list was called the Graham Theatre. That theatre had opus 860 a style B 4-rank job that was repo'ed and sent to the first Hanford Theatre in Hanford, CA (later transfered to the new Fox Hanford Theatre in 1930.)
I am going to put an entry on the CT website on the Graham Theatre and see what pops up.
Here is the URL for the downtown LA Kinema/Criterion/Fox Criterion theatre on South Grand. At least from a structure standpoint, it has nothing to do with this little theatre in South Central LA/Florence-Graham.
I suspect this theatre has nothing to do with the larger Kinema/Criterion Theatre that was once in downtown LA.
If this is the neighborhood theatre I think it is, it is in the unincorporated area of LA known as Florence-Graham. The Compton Avenue address shown above is not in downtown LA.
It is likely this particular Compton Ave. Kinema Theatre installed a small Wurlitzer originally installed in the (G.A.) Bush Theatre in San Diego in 1924. A few years later it was moved to the Kinema Theatre in Florence-Graham. I own this particular organ and have owned it since 1982.
The big downtown Kinema/Criterion Theatre had a 5m Robert-Morton organ built in nearby Van Nuys, CA. There seems to have been an ownership connection between the downtown LA Kinema and the Kinema Theatre in Fresno, CA. The Fresno theatre also had a 5 manual Robert-Morton organ.
The question remains as to whether this small theatre was associated with the larger Kinema/Criterion in downtown LA. Does anyone know if this theatre or building still exists?
I know of an instrument that is available for donation now. However, all the financial “ducks” would need be in order before such a donation could take place. No one needs another instrument sitting in storage; particularly a large one.
I do not want to toss ice water on this. This is a theatre that should have a concert quality instrument. Getting the organ donated is the easy part. Finding someone to install the organ, professionally, is an easy part.
Getting the funding together for such a project is the hard part.
I know the US organ. I heard it in 1992. It is not large enough scale and high enough wind pressure to deal with a big room like the Palace. The Palace needs an organ of style 260 (3/15 minimum)or upwards, in Wurlitzer specs.
A large Robert Morton such as the organ originally in the Loew’s Providence would also work. The problem today is finding an instrument of worthy scale and wind pressure that has not been hoplessly changed and chopped up. There are a few such instruments out there. If enough interest gets at the going at the Palace, I can put these people in touch with such an organization in short order. I know of three suitable instruments right now without even thinking too hard on the subject. One such instrument is immediately open for donation—BUT—there must be evidence that the project will come to fruition and not languish in storage.
A project such as this should really be accomplished by a professional installation and restoration firm. This is how the “new” organ was handled for the former Loew’s Providence, now the Ocean State Performing Arts Center (?) in Providence, RI.
The original organ in the Palace was a 4 manual 23 rank Wurlitzer originally installed in the NYC Hippodrome Theatre. When the Hipp closed in the late ‘20s, the organ was moved to the new Albany Palace Theatre. While one on-line Wurlitzer opus list calls this organ a “Publix #1” organ, the Hipp/Palace organ was not of this style. The Hipp/Palace organ was a one of a kind design with a small 4-rank “floating” string division. The organ was somewhat similar to the 28 rank Wurlitzer that was in the Fabian Theatre in Patterson, NJ.
The Palace organ was removed in the early ‘60s (or late '50s?) and promptly broken up for parts. The console still exisits, but has been used for a large electronic organ. The rest of the organ was broken up and scattered. The 16’ English Horn from the Hipp/Palace organ was, for many years, added to the former Buffalo Shea’s Hippodrome (Center) Theatre organ when it was installed in a Fresno, CA pizza restaurant. I worked with this organ for several years when it “did time” in the restaurant.
Sad to say, but the opus 1460 mentioned above is a style H of 2 manuals and 10 ranks—this organ is far too small for a theatre of 2700 seats. Rather than take the intact opus 1460 and enlarging the organ, it would be better to find an intact, large instrument fitting of a theatre the size of the Palace. There are such instruments “out there” and quite likely capable of donation.
I am very familiar with both pipe organs that were originally in the Elmo and Obispo Theatres. Neither organ remains intact, however, the organ from the Obispo is the most intact of the two.
Are there any photos of the interiors AND exteriors of these two theatres?
I understood the remains of the El Monterey vertical sign was still in exisitence in Moro Bay circa 1988 or so. The old fellow who told me of this sign, is long gone, so I cannot give any specifics.
Please feel free to contact me directly if any information is request about the Elmo or Obsipo pipe organs (other than what I posted above last fall.)
The name chronology is roughly this:
1917-1949 Liberty Theatre
1949-1980 Hardy’s Theatre (Liberty name not used)
1990-present Mexico Theatre (Hardy and Liberty names not used)
These dates may be off a year or five, but it is the order of names used on the old Liberty. I suspect much of the original decore is still in the Liberty under the drab 1950s plaster job. From the space formerly occupied by the organ chambers on each side of the stage, clearly shows the original “wagon wheel” style organ screens with the plaster applied over the original screens. A small part of the screens are still ope to the auditorium, presumably for ventilation.
I am not sure what ‘cosmic’ is talking about above. The El Campanile had a 2 manual 6 rank style 165 Wurlitzer that was installed when the theatre opened.
After leaving the El Camp,the organ went to an Oakland area nightclub known as 615 Club where it was played for dancing by
the late Dave Quinlan.
When the 615 was closed, the organ was moved to Rudy’s Supper Club in Vallejo where it contineud to play for many years, again played by Dave Quinlan.
Due to the vintage of the organ (1928), the organ was equipped with “black cap” [electro] magnets to actuate the switching and pipe valves. These magnets are often prone to failure, but are easy to replace.
Sadly, an electronic organ sales effort got the Supper Club to dump the pipe organ because it “was in bad shape” and the club hauled in some sort of electronic organ and sold the pipe organ. The pipe organ was broken up for parts and no longer exists. Some parts were used in the composite Wurlitzer in the Fox Theatre in Hanford, CA (which is now, misguidedly, about to be replaced with another composite organ with none of the quality of the organ presently installed.)
Interesting. The Wilson was the primo house in Fresno for a short period of time. There was no comparison of the Wilson to the older, 1917 Liberty Theatre over on Van Ness. However, when the Pantages (now Warnors) opened almost across the street from the Wilson, the Wilson took a back seat. The Pantages was and is a big city movie palace in every sense of the term. Pricteca’s design in the auditorium may have borrowed from his other designs in San Francisco and San Diego, but the Fresno Pantages/Warnors remains at the top of the heap.
The Cornerstone Church which took over the Wilson a number of years ago, is to be commended for the great job they did in bringing back the Wilson.
For some reason I am being sent updates on this theatre. Please remove my name from this entry.