Private Residence – Brielle, NJ
“I’m calling to inquire about the 2/6 Wurlitzer advertised in THEATRE ORGAN,” said the voice on the phone. It was March of 1992, the voice was “E.O.”, a seasoned New Jersey businessman who had a nice colonial in the posh town of Brielle, New Jersey. He went on to explain that the new music room addition was being finished as we spoke and he was actively investigating elaborate electronic theatre organs when he saw our ad for the 2/6. After some amount of conversation, I realized that playing piano and organ had been his lifetime hobby. He was musically alert and wanted a small but adequate theatre organ.
I followed our conversation with a letter explaining the do’s and don’ts, realism and folly of home installations.
Calls became more frequent and enthusiasm on both sides elevated. A trip to his finished addition revealed there was but one possible place for the organ’s components: in the original basement area adjoining and below the new music room. All sound would have to come through a chute in the floor, a plan that triggered red flags from an acoustical standpoint. Even then, little space was available as the owner was seriously active with Boy Scouts of America and used a great portion of the basement area for meetings. What little remained, provided much needed storage.
We gradually worked out (commandeered) a space 9′ x 26′. Ceiling height was the usual 7’1/2″. With mitering, we might fit 13 serviceable ranks. Satisfied the plan was workable, “E.O.” placed classified ads in THEATRE ORGAN seeking a small 3 manual Wurlitzer. Two of the approximate ten responses hailed from Ohio, and after three months of ads, we boarded a USAir jet and flew to Cincinnati.
The first organ sounded exciting: a late model 3/13 Wurlitzer complete and in good condition. Wrong! This instrument was stored in three, separate rather make-shift storage areas, some of which had leaking roofs. Many components had been disassembled down to macro parts, all of which we were assured were there, in boxes. It was hard to even recognize some items. This 3/13 was not for “E.O.”
… On to Columbus and the William Hunt residence. In the early 60s, Bill purchased the 3/11, c. 1927 Wurlitzer from Cleveland’s Granada Theatre. He built beautiful, large chambers, releathered all but the reservoirs and meticulously installed each component. It took him almost ten years. We were quickly convinced, with a deal struck which included swapping a Conn electronic as part of the sale, in April of 1993.
In October, four technicians were dispatched who dismantled and packed the organ for shipment to a Hartford, Connecticut, warehouse. The organ lived there until time permitted erecting the instrument in its new configuration. At this time the equipment was cleaned and checked over. Reservoirs, tremolos and swell engines were releathered. All pipes were washed and reeds cleaned.
It was decided to make some changes in the original chamber layout. The two chests were the typical model 235, 4-rank solo and 7-rank Main, so providing an even distribution of ranks wasn’t possible. The Vox was moved to the Solo, spreading the string/Vox ensemble through two chambers. We also brought the clarinet into the Solo placed on its own tremulant. This change made it possible to use as a Solo stop against Main Chamber strings and flutes. In the Main, the original pencil scale Viol and Viol Celeste were swapped for a beautiful Violin and Violin Celeste. These were placed side-by side, making it easier to isolate them on their own tremolo. Their diatonic directions and wiring was reversed end for end to ensure no tuning draw when played together. These changes relegated the Kinura and Orchestral Oboe to the Main, a rather unorthodox arrangement; however, with side-by-side chambers all seems to work well.
The organ’s pipes were in wonderful condition and eliminating any was a tough decision. Wurlitzer Violin and Salicional scales are supposedly almost identical so, with the new broader Violins in place, it was elected to sacrifice the Salicional for a new Trivo Post Horn on 13″ pressure. The VDOs and Salicional were placed in other, nice Wurlitzers in the northeast. (Fear not, they are happy.) The reservoir compliment was increased to create six tremolos and three static wind supplies, thereby removing all basses from tremolo.
“E.O.” hired an architect who designed the chambers to include every inch of possible space. The basement provided three solid, concrete chamber walls. The fourth was built of double 5/8″ sheet rock screwed to numerous studs. All walls were sealed, primed, and painted.
Reportedly, there had been a skim of water on the floor during heavy rains. This further complicated things by necessitating installation of a 3/4″ thick plywood floor laid on 1″ pressure treated sleepers. Although it assured a level surface and eased screwing down components, it also ate up almost 2″ in height.
Experience taught us many pitches won’t bend around corners, so large shade openings were made into the chute and we placed the manual chests tight against them. Behind these, we placed some percussions. The offsets laced the outside walls.
Possibly the biggest professional negative was the necessity to miter so many pipes. Any true Wurlitzer advocate is an admirer of their beautiful craftsmanship. We had to “hood” the Ophicleides and metal Diaphones, a job requiring experience, space and facility. The Austin Organ Company in Hartford offered all three qualifications and through a special arrangement, made possible by Don Austin their top pipe maker, Stu Skates tackled these enormous pipes and did a beautiful job. There is no depletion of sound and for the most part, their hoods aim the sound directly toward the shades. The numerous smaller pipe miters were done in our shop.
It was decided to place the 7-1/2 hp Spencer blower in a special, insulated enclosure in the attached garage. This was distant enough to be inaudible in the music room. Twelve inch metal duct was run to each chamber. This was intersected twice by carpet-mazed muffler boxes. As a result, blower and in-line impeller noise is minimal. In addition, we felt-lined all the reservoir trunks as well as placed a felt pad over each set of reservoir valves to help further quell ball-valve hiss. The PVC pipe used by Mr. Hunt at Columbus was greatly augmented and reused at Brielle.
We were concerned for the original Wurlitzer relays. Bill Hunt was a long time telephone employee and had elected to replace most of the organ’s cables with new wire. This included all the stop switch cables which were then spliced into the key relay cables. It worked, but Bill too was concerned for the move, potential breaks and a possible future of frustration. As a result it was opted to replace the relay. A Rickman Control System was purchased, thereby offering all the many magical feats, fast becoming common with the introduction of electronic switching to pipe organs. This also made practical specification changes possible, including more unification as well as added couplers and pizzicato touch.
The organ was shipped to Brielle in mid May of 1994. Shop pre-erection made the installation go relatively fast. The organ played within weeks and by September our crews were but a memory and “E.O.” has his Wurlitzer-equipped music room. Happily, things sounded very nice. Good projection was occurring, even with the rather modest 2′ x 12′ floor opening. The special design, reinforced masonite chute worked.
Original plans called for molding the Chrysoglott, Xylophone, Glockenspiel and Chimes into a somewhat sleek percussion tower which would then be placed on the music room balcony. Some shop hours were spent creating what we thought would work tonally and visually. Up and up went the percussions, up and up went the tower and up and up went the owners eyebrows. Our tower of percussive power was a bit more than all expected to see in the library-like music room: “E.O.” called it a Chinese pagoda. A meeting was called with the Xylophone and Glockenspiel banished to the basement Solo Chamber: not the best for projection even with static pressure. The chimes and Chrysoglott enjoy the balcony, their own reservoir and special lower pressure which makes them wonderful additions to the organ.
Our rank that was terribly disappointing was the 15″ pressure Tibia. New adjectives had to be created to describe the scratches, busses and bleeps that came out of these pipes. Allen Miller bailed it out nicely with his process that corrects a flaw in the construction of the wood block which forms the windway of the pipes; then, we had a good Tibia. All other voicing was carried out by Richard S. Hedgebeth.
Tom Hazleton performed two wonderful dedication concerts in late April of 1995. As he played, I thought back to that original phone call three years earlier and how I’d tried to cast a very realistic, safe, sober air on “E.O’s” enthusiasm for doing this project. Thank goodness he’s a man of vision. The spell-binding sounds of a good Wurlitzer such as this are indeed worth all the money and effort. As we all know, there’s simply nothing quite like it on earth.
The owners are happy to show their instrument to ATOS members who give them some advance warning. Enjoy!
|English Horn (Trivo)||8′||61||13-1/2″|
|Crash Cymbal (re-it)|
|Crash Cymbal (re-it)|
Copyright © 1997 The American Theatre Organ Society, Inc. www.atos.org. All rights reserved.