“It’s not very deep,” Dean observed. “There’s only one way, and that’s up!
But nothing is stored down here,” he pointed out, “that anyone would want on-stage. What’s it for?”
Having just read a little way into the movie palace enthusiast’s scouting manual, The Best Remaining Seats, I thought I had the answer, “It’s for the organ,” I said.
The St. George had once had a pipe organ, a 3/30 (3 manual, 30 rank) Wurlitzer which, like other organs of the era, rose from the depths on an elevated platform, stage right (left, as you face the proscenium). I recalled hearing something about a sale a few years back, when the owner of the building — our landlord with whom we’d already begun to have issues--got quick cash for a number of items — lamps, rugs and what-not. The Wurlitzer (1929 cost: $25,000.00) was probably the last to go. Silent since 1935 — when its last full-time organist, Andy Anderson, was fired to trim theater expenses — its new destination, according to local sources, had been Pipe Organ Pizza (see the menu above) in Memorial City, Houston, Texas, where it entertained pizza-eating patrons for at least a decade.
Eventually the pizza joint itself became an object of reverie, evoking this nostalgic query on a website of historic interest to Houstonians: Does anyone remember the pipe organ pizza at memorial city mall? It had the huge pipe organ and the 20's and 30's theme inside with pictures of all the old movie stars on the walls.
It becomes impossible to trace the whereabouts of our Wurlitzer at this point. Like an aging Chevy in a junkyard, it may have been sold for parts, cannibalized to keep several other pipe organs going, a sad ending, far from home.
With the theater’s exquisite acoustics, I can only imagine what all those pipes would have done to the place.
To placate myself, I’m going to Suffern New York soon, to the Lafayette Theater, to take in a flick and listen to Wurlitzer Opus 2095 installed there by the American Theater Organ Society. Although it isn’t the original house organ (removed in 1933 to accommodate an “air cooling system”), the organ currently residing in the Lafayette has a venerable history. It began its travels from its original home, the Lawler Theatre in Greenfield, Massachusetts, to the Rainbow Roller Rink in South Deerfield, Mass. Then it journeyed on to a New York City Duplex owned by a noted theater historian, Ben M. Hall (the author, coincidentally of the previously-mentioned and much-revered tome, The Best Remaining Seats). It remained at his home until his death some three years later, passing at that point safely into the hands of the American Theater Organ Society. Traveling briefly to California, ostensibly to become part of a museum on the estate of Harold Lloyd, it returned back to New York City after that deal fell through. There you may have heard it if you went to the Carnegie Hall Cinema during its decade there. When the Cinema was twinned, it enjoyed a few years in storage, but came out of retirement in 1992, to what may be its permanent home in the newly restored Lafayette Theatre — where it has entertained weekend audiences ever since. Such are the life and travels of a theater organ lucky enough not to be cannibalized. Hats off to the American Theater Organ Society!