Opus 101, Nicknamed “Ursula”
Built 82 years ago, the Sunnybrook Ballroom in Pottstown, Pa. became a main stop on the big band circuit, attracting such names as Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, and Louis Armstrong.
In July of 2009 when we last reported on “Ursula”, the organ in this venue, the foundation that had taken over the Ballroom and refurbished it in 2008, was trying to sell the instrument. The organ had suffered damage from four years lack of use, neglect, and the ravages of languishing in an unheated building. The foundation considered estimates of the cost to bring it back to life to be prohibitive, and so advertised the instrument for sale.
In June of 2010, well known Philadelphia area organ technician Brant Duddy, who had worked on the Ballroom organ in the past, convinced the Ballroom Foundation’s directors that repair and partial restoration was possible on a volunteer basis. With the aide of two young assistants, Jon Buchanan and Matthew Taft, he set out to bring the organ back to life. While a major rebuild still has not been accomplished, the instrument is again playable.
“Ursula”, the 3 manual 14 rank Theatre Pipe Organ at Sunnybrook, was built in 1928 by The United States Pipe Organ Company of Crum Lynne, Delaware County, Pa. for installation in the 900 seat Lansdale Theatre on Main Street in Lansdale, Pa. It debuted there on March 5, 1928.
Today it is speculated that Opus 101 is one of the last remaining specimens of this company’s work. According to Robert Lent, long time employee of the US Pipe Organ Company, however, a number of the company’s instruments still exist, hidden away in poor Philadelphia area churches.
In 1942, fourteen years after installation in the theatre, Opus 101 was moved to a Baptist Church in Phoenixville, Chester County, Pa. where it played for 30 years until 1972.
Its next home was the private residence of Roger and Dorothy Bloom, Downingtown, Chester County, Pa, where it remained for almost 10 years until the Blooms moved to Florida.
In 1981 it was purchased from the Blooms by Robert Hartenstine for installation at his Sunnybrook Ballroom. The installation was performed by Robert Lent, of the US Pipe Organ Company, who had been involved with the organ since the Baptist Church days. The organ’s debut coincided with the 50th Anniversary of the Ballroom, the first concert taking place on October 3, 1981.
Hartenstine dubbed the organ “US Pipes”. The origin of the name “Ursula” is unknown, but it came into use later.
GSTOS first visited “Ursula” in June of the following year for Sunday Brunch.
Then followed regular fall visits in conjunction with the Delaware Valley Chapter in 1984, 1986, 1987, and 1988.
In 1992, significant renovations were performed by Brant Duddy and crew, including the installation of a Z-Tronics relay system, rewiring of the windchests, reconstruction of the horseshoe rail, and the addition of a (then used) combination action. The organ was featured as a main attraction of the 1992 ATOS National Convention, beaten only in popularity at that event by the Dickinson Kimball.
After an 11 year hiatus, GSTOS once again visited Ursula for Sunday brunch in September of 1999. It was to be our most recent visit there. A later date set for November of 2000 had to be canceled due to scheduling problems with the venue. We have not been back since.
In the year 2001, the Ballroom was celebrating the 20th Anniversary of “Ursula” at Sunnybrook.
Following the 2010 repairs and rebirth, “Ursula” was played September 11, 2010 for the 2nd anniversary of the Ballroom’s reopening. After damage from a lightning strike in June of 2011, further work was done to install a new control system in the console.
More recently, long time house organist and keyboardist George Batman from Reading Pennsylvania played the instrument on Sunday March 31, 2013 for Easter Brunch, and on Sunday May 12, 2013 for Mother’s Day Brunch. The organ has also been used for a number of weddings held at the venue.
We understand from Brant Duddy that the traditional Sunday brunches with organ music were curtailed while the venue had renovations done to it’s kitchen facilities.
Dick Smith played the instrument on Sunday July 5, 2015 as background music for the American Theatre Organ Society Annual Convention Banquet.
Ursula Lives – Rejoice!
For further information, see www.sunnybrookorgan.com
There is an interesting story regarding the two large embossed copper US Pipe Organ Company nameplates with dark blue background affixed to the company’s organ at Sunnybrook. It seems that US Pipes ordered a shipment of 50 of these dramatic nameplates back in the 1920s. The shipment was hijacked, never delivered, and never reordered. As a result, U S Pipe Organ Company instruments were only identified by a small ivory nameplate on the backrail. Years later, Roger Bloom, the third owner of the Sunnybrook Organ found two of the stolen copper nameplates at a yard sale. He bought them and they remain affixed to the organ today. Similarly, over 20 years ago the parents of organist Kenneth W. Fedorick found a third one of these nameplates at a flea market in southeast Pennsylvania. It is displayed in the nameplates section of www.theatreorgans.com
The Sunnybrook organ is installed at the opposite end of the Ballroom from the stage. The chambers are located above the entrance lobby with its two sets of double doors. Tuned percussions/traps/toys are unenclosed in front of the chambers. The console sits on a movable platform to the right of the doors.