Rainbow Room Wurly’s Sister Alive and Well!

Experience the sound of the Theatre Pipe Organ

The Ned Niemiec R-16 Wurlitzer
Lakesville, Massachusetts

(Thanks to Marilyn McNichols and Ned Niemiec for information and photos.)

We can’t call them twins, because the Rainbow Room organ was enhanced with a second art deco style console and roll player, but they are certainly sisters, and they both attained a measure of fame. The Wurlitzer factory only ever built TWO Style R-16 residence organs.

The first R-16, Opus 2051, was installed in 1929 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, where it was used by the Wurlitzer store there as a demonstrator. It remained in this location for 26 years until 1955. A photo of the console at the Hotel appears on page 294 of Junchen’s “The Wurlitzer Organ, an Illustrated History”. A close up photo of an almost identical console also appears on page 345 of Junchen. It appears to be virtually the same cabinetry as the original keydesk for the Rainbow Room organ. The sister R-16’s thus started life with identical consoles! Factory markings on Opus 2051’s parts, which remain to this day, confirm that the Ambassador is where the organ was first shipped.

It then was moved to the Goslin residence in Flint Ridge California, where it was never installed before Mr. Goslin fell ill and decided to sell it.

Somewhere along the way, however, a more elaborate console replaced the original.  Wurlitzer was known for producing straight consoles for its residence organs.  The 3 manual horseshoe console which now controls this organ, is noteworthy as it has its own provenance and fame.  It was constructed of quarter sawn walnut with intricate carving by Italian artisans and was paired with a dogleg bench.  For many years it resided at the Wurlitzer factory showroom in North Tonowanda, N.Y.  There is a photo of the side and back of the impressive cabinetry on page 317 of Junchen. Other photos were taken of Farny Wurlitzer himself at the console. It is said that this keydesk was a favorite of his!  Juchen states that the console was used for recording reproducing rolls at the factory showroom, and was played by many famous artists including Jesse Crawford!  The current owner of the organ indicates that there are permanent markings on the keys at the high and low ends of the scale. They were there to remind organists who were recording rolls that these keys were beyond the compass of the roll player, and could not be used! Noted organ technician and Charter ATOS member Allen Miller is said to have recalled seeing this console, still at the Wurltzer factory showroom, as late as the 1950’s. By process of elimination, it is thus believed that this console was acquired by Mr.Goslin for his R-16 installation.

Elaborate Console from the Wurlitzer Factory Showroom

In 1969, Dean McNichols bought the parts from Goslin and installed the organ, at his residence in Downy California. The organ came with the “new” horseshoe console, but the matching dogleg bench had been replaced with a massive Wurlitzer residence church style bench with burled wood grains. We do not know what became of the original straight console at the Ambassador Hotel with its dogleg bench, the twin to the original Rainbow Room console, nor do we know what became of the dogleg bench from the horseshoe console.

We have been in touch with the widow of Dean McNichols, who kindly gave us information about the organ. Upon acquiring the instrument, she personally stripped and refinished the elaborate walnut horseshoe keydesk and bench. Her husband installed the instrument in one chamber at their home, adding a set of untuned percussions, and a piano.  After 24 years of enjoyment, they decided to move, and sold the organ in the Fall of 1993. It then traveled to its fourth and current home at the Ned Niemiec residence in Lakesville, Massachusetts, (between East Taunton and Middleboro in Plymouth County).  Dean McNichols was able to visit the installation and play his beloved Wurly in 2005, shortly before his death.

Conversations with Ned Niemiec, a member of EMCATOS, the Eastern Massachusetts ATOS chapter, indicate that he completely rebuilt the organ to “as new” as he installed it in one chamber at his home over a 10 year time period. The organ speaks into the listening space through a unique set of shades that he mounted horizontally.  He has added two more tuned percussions (glock and xylophone), 2 new ranks of pipes (Welte Trumpet, and Wurlitzer Kinura), and a toy counter. He has also added  offset chests to the tibia rank, extending it up to 2’, and to the tuba rank extending it down to 16’. A new tremulant, giving the tibia rank a dedicated trem, has also been added. In the process of re-specification, Ned changed the all white stop tabs around the horseshoe to the traditional Wurlitzer Theatre Organ colors.

In effect, Ned’s enhancements to the R-16 have served to make the instrument more theatrical.  He is just about at the end of his installation project (the piano still has to be hooked up, and tonal finishing accomplished).

Photos of this sister to the Rainbow Room organ in its current venue can be found at www.emcatos.com Click on “scrapbook”.  Click on “Wayne’s Organ Tours”. Select the Ned Niemiec entry.

With the installation of the Rainbow Room Organ at Rahway Sr. Citizens Center, both well known Wurlitzer R-16’s are alive, well, and playing in the Northeast, only 240 miles apart and only about a 4 ½ hour car ride from each other!