By working from Social Security death records, we were able to figure out some information about this local New Jersey organ builder. First of all, he spelled his name Earle, not Earl. Second, his middle initial was “J”. Third, he was born on June 18, 1888, and died in June of 1974 at age 86 in Letitz, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Earle Beach pictured in the voicing room at the Hope-Jones Organ Company. Elmira, N.Y. circa 1908 (Courtesy “The Wurltizer Pipe Organ, an Illustrated History”)
Earle Beach initially worked for the Hope-Jones Organ Company at the factory in Elmira, New York. Since Hope-Jones established this company in February of 1907, we can deduce that Beach started working there at the tender age of 18, or slightly older. Vintage photographs of the Hope-Jones workers in Junchen’s “The Wurlitzer Pipe Organ, An Illustrated History”, show him looking quite young. In May of 1908 Beach is listed on the Hope-Jones payroll log as working in the voicing department. He was heavily involved in the building and installation of the famous Hope-Jones organ in the Great Auditorium at Ocean Grove, N.J., and he later became curator of the instrument for many years.
John Shaw, current curator of the Ocean Grove organ describes visiting the Jersey Shore from his home in Pennsylvania as a teenager during summers in the early 1950’s. Earle Beach would take him on tours of the organ’s chambers, and Shaw got hooked. (Shaw has been volunteer curator there since 1974, the year Beach died.)
After a little more than three years in business in May of 1910, the Hope-Jones Organ Company was about to fail for lack of capital. The company had contracts in hand to build 6 organs, but lacked funds due to the indiscriminate spending of Robert Hope-Jones. Wurlitzer agreed to buy out Hope-Jones. When operations moved to North Tonawanda, N.Y. Earle Beach went along to the Wurlitzer factory. He was just short of turning 22 years old. Exactly what Beach’s functions were at the factory do not seem to be documented. He apparently learned well, however.
Eleven years later (according to the New York Times), we find Earle J. Beach of East Orange, N.J. at age 33 partnering with Parker O. Griffith and Theodore M. Griffith, of The Griffith Piano Company, Newark to form the Griffith-Beach Organ Company. Incorporated in New Jersey on June 29, 1921, the company was capitalized with $100,000, most of which we can assume came from the Griffiths.
Junchen, in his “Encyclopedia of the American Theatre Organ” identifies 10 organs built by the company, all installed in New Jersey. Three in Elizabeth, Two in Paterson, and one each in Newark, Newton, Passaic, Ridgewood, and West Hoboken. Two of the 10 still play today, at Newark Symphony Hall, and at St. Jude’s RC Church, Lake Hopatcong. A third played for years at the Martin residence in Little Falls, and is now being installed at the Tioga Theatre, Owego, N.Y. This is an amazing percentage given the number of theatre organs which have been destroyed over the years!
We also find that Beach dabbled in church organs. According to the American Guild of Organists, circa 1925 he rebuilt a 2/11 Reuben Midmer & Son instrument for St. Rose of Lima R.C. Church in Brooklyn.
He later started Earle J. Beach & Son, a firm which manufactured electric chimes. His chimes company is listed as exhibiting at musical conventions during 1947 & 1948, when Beach would have been approaching age 60.
The rest of Beach’s later life is largely undocumented. He is pictured in Junchen’s Wurlitzer book, in his mid 70’s with other Wurlitzer employees at the ATOS 1964 convention in Buffalo, N.Y.
There the story ends, although he lived another 10 years, probably in full retirement.