Comments from OrpheumDennis

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OrpheumDennis commented about Rialto Theatre (2nd) on Oct 2, 2012 at 5:35 pm

I really hope they don’t delete the photo. I think it helps historians clear up some of the mysteries about conflicting addresses. The Rialto name simply moved across the alley when the first Orpheum vacated the building and the new Orpheum opened on 4th Street. The photos should be labeled First Rialto (on the east side of the alley with the name on the marquee) and Second Rialto (on the west side of the alley with the name on the vertical sign). My Wurlitzer pipe organ console from the Orpheum was originally installed in the Rialto in 1923 and I always thought it was in the building on the west side of the alley, the Rialto I remember. Only recently, when I uncovered all of this history, I found out it was originally installed in the FIRST Rialto. The first Rialto was torn down and they built Kress' on that site, of which I have many fond childhood memories.

OrpheumDennis commented about Rialto Theatre (2nd) on Sep 19, 2012 at 1:42 am

That’s correct Kewpie. Across the alley to the west was the first Orpheum, which was originally called the Empress. When the new Orpheum opened on the south side of 4th Street, between Main and Boston, the old Orpheum was renamed the Rialto and the building shown in the post card was torn down. The S. S. Kress store was built on that site. It was an L shaped building, I believe, which wrapped around what later became the Holly Shop on the corner of 3rd and Main. Kress' had entrances on Main Street and 3rd Street.

OrpheumDennis commented about Orpheum Theater on Jun 3, 2011 at 11:23 am

Cupie: The history of these theatres, their names and locations is VERY confusing. There is a wonderful “Tulsa Gal’s Blog” which sorts all of this out. According to her, the Rialto of the 1920s-70s was originally The Empress, The New Empress and Orpheum. The first Rialto was in a building next door. From 1919 to 1924, the Rialto and Orpheum were next door to each other on 3rd Street. When the new Orpheum opened on East 4th Street, the Rialto moved next door (into the original Orpheum) and remained there until it was demolished in 1973. Whew!

For her complete history, go to this link:

One thing I just realized is that the Wurlitzer pipe organ console from the Orpheum, which I now own, was originally installed in a different Rialto than the one I remember. It was originally installed in the Rialto in 1923 and moved to the “new” Orpheum and enlarged (by the Wurlitzer company) after the Orpheum moved to 4th Street. A theatre program from 1918 boasts a $14,000 pipe organ in the original Rialto. Now I must research that to find out what that organ was. From that era (pre-1920) most theatres had glorified church organs, usually real “wheeze-boxes” – not the wonderful Wurlitzers and Robert Mortons of the 1920s. With digital sampling, the Wurlitzer console is once again making music in my basement.

OrpheumDennis commented about Rialto Theatre (2nd) on Sep 4, 2010 at 11:08 am

The Wurlitzer Opus 691 was purchased in 1969 by a business associate of Alex Blue, the Orpheum Building’s owner, and moved to the man’s home in Dallas. This happened without the knowledge of Bill Roberts, Dorothy Smith and Phil Judkins, who rebuilt the organ in the early 60s. Several years later, that man bought a larger instrument and the Orpheum organ went to his son’s home in a suburb of Austin. The pipes are still there, but he added a 3 manual console and additional pipes. The two manual console of Opus 691, through an odd chain of events, is sitting in my basement “speakeasy” and screening room in Chicago and will soon play with digital samples. It was the first theatre pipe organ I ever played (when it was still in the Orpheum) and I worked as an usher and assistant manager at the Orpheum (also, occasionally, the Rialto) while I was in college. It’s my understanding that the organ was enlarged with a kinura, clarinet, and salicional celeste in 1924 and was moved to the Orpheum for the theatre’s opening in November of that year. At that time it became a two chamber installation, with chambers on both sides of the proscenium. It had been in only one chamber in the Rialto.

OrpheumDennis commented about Orpheum Theater on Sep 4, 2010 at 10:32 am

I recently found this article in the February, 1924 issue of The REEL JOURNAL, the Film Trade Paper of the Southwest. It disproves my earlier post that the Orpheum Building had been begun in the teens but stopped during World War I. (That was a story told to me by an elderly Orpheum projectionist.) This story gives a lot of valuable information about the theatre’s construction and decor.


W. M. Smith of Tulsa, Okla., has let contracts for the $760,000 new Orpheum vaudeville and motion picture theatre to be erected on West Fourth street in Tulsa. The theatre, which was designed by John Eberson of Chicago, 111., will seat 1,500 on the first floor and balcony.
The general contract for the building was let to Brickney & Garbett, Kennedy building, Tulsa, while Mandel Brothers of Chicago have been retained to decorate the new house. The structure will be five stories high, faced with terra cotta. Contracts for equipment call for Powers projection machines, a transverter, Minusa screen, for stage lighting fixtures, etc., to Witmark, Chicago. For seats to the American Seat Company. Vento heating will be used, while the Karpen Company, Tulsa, is to furnish carpets and furniture.

OrpheumDennis commented about Orpheum Theater on Sep 19, 2007 at 4:37 pm

Miss Melba Toast:
Thanks so much for the link to the Orpheum balcony shot. I worked at the Orpheum from June, 1965 until February, 1970, shortly before I moved to Chicago. I’ve seen posts for both the Orpheum and the Ritz, listing their demolition as 1973. The Ritz THEATRE was torn down in 1960, but the RITZ BUILDING remained until around 1973. The Orpheum closed in March, 1970 and was torn down during the spring and summer of 1970. When I returned in May, 1970 for my graduation from The University of Tulsa, the stage house and about half of the auditorium were already gone. The console of the Wurlitzer organ Opus 691 mentioned in a post above by Lost Memory is sitting in my basement “speakeasy” and has just been restored to it’s original ribbon mahagony finish. I played it for the first time in 1962 just before Phil Judkins, Dorothy Smith and the late Bill Roberts (bless them all) dismantled it for a complete rebuild. According to the Wurlitzer list, it was installed as a Style D, 2m/6r as a single chamber installation in Tulsa’s Rialto Theatre in May, 1923. In July, 1924, it was moved to the Orpheum and three ranks (Salicional Celeste, Clarinet and Kinura) were added and it became a two chamber installation. These dates would seem to make sense, because I was told by one of the Orpheum’s projectionists (then an elderly man)that the “New” Orpheum opened in November, 1924 but had been under construction since the late teens. I hope someone can confirm these dates. It’s a shame so much of this history has been lost!

OrpheumDennis commented about Palace Theatre on Jul 23, 2007 at 5:01 pm

I hate to disappoint members who have viewed the large vertical “Palace” sign in some of the pictures of Tulsa’s Main Street, but that sign belonged to Palace Clothiers at the northwest corner of 4th and Main, and there was no theatre associated with it. The sign was in VERY good company, however. The Ritz theatre with it’s glitzy incandescent and neon vertical and elegantly curved marquee was a half block west on the south side of 4th Street, the Orpheum, with it’s refined incandescent vertical was a half block east on the south side of 4th Street. The Majestic was on the west side of Main Street and two doors south of 4th. The Tulsa was a block and a half north on the east side of Main Street. I don’t remember the Palace Theatre but according to the address listed, it was five or six blocks north of Palace Clothiers. By the way, Tulsa’s other “major” downtown house was the Rialto (originally the Empress and later the first Orpheum). It was on the north side of 3rd Street, between a half block east of Main Street.

OrpheumDennis commented about Ritz Theatre on Jul 12, 2007 at 2:13 pm

I worked at the Orpheum (one block east of the Ritz) from June 1965 to January 1970. The advertising manager for our theatre chain, Bud Patton, had worked for years for Ralph Talbot Theatres, who at one time operated the Ritz, Orpheum, Majestic and Rialto. According to him, the Ritz was 1600 seats (I’ve seen it listed between 1500 and 2000), and there was never any question that the theatre was designed by John Eberson. I suspect that Saunders designed or decorated rooms for the fairly large Ritz Building, but he was NOT the architect for the theatre—Eberson was. The theatre closed in 1960 and was torn down the same year. The rest of the building remained until 1973 and a flower shop owned by James Maxwell (a one-time Tulsa mayor) occupied what was once the theatre’s outer lobby. The 4 manual/17 rank Robert Morton was purchased by an organist from Richardson, Texas and installed in his home. Curtains, rigging and stage flats from the vaudeville era went to Nathan Hale High School. The Ritz vertical sign was one of the most spectacular I’ve seen. It combined multicolored bulbs AND neon and the entire cycle must have taken 30-45 seconds to go through the complete cycle, or so it seemed when I was a kid.