Friday, March 6, 2009

Organ Transplant

(Photo of the Uptown Theatre's console and Don Isham in 1927, along with many other amazing vintage pictures, is courtesy of the Chicago Area Theatre Organ Enthusiasts's wonderful web page dedicated to the Uptown Theatre.)

Interesting! The grand California Theatre in San Jose was recently refurbished for $75 million (thanks to a local philanthropist) and restored to its 1927 glory. Included in the renovation was the Wurlitzer organ, consisting of over 1500 pipes. Since you can't get those on eBay, the California scavenged parts from other theatres. And this made us really sad: they got the console, in terrible shape, from our very own Uptown Theatre.

We hope we're around when the Uptown is more than a theatrical chop shop and gets some of its own glory restored.

This is what an article in the San Jose Mercury News said: "Stout and Taylor obtained their console from Chicago's legendary Uptown Theatre, where it hadn't been used in decades. It was, Stout says, "in absolute derelict condition. It's a 1925 Wurlitzer console, and it's the first wedding-cake-type console to be manufactured by Wurlitzer."

"It has a glazed honey finish with a lot of very elaborate ormolu, decorative elements that are in 23-carat gold," he continues. "But much of the ormolu was missing and broken, though we were able to re-create it by making our own molds. So now, as it's seen in the California, all the original d├ęcor is in place. It looks like a very fashionable lady coming out of a powder room." Check out the restored version here and here.


  1. Was it the current owners who sold the organ for parts?

  2. As a 10-year resident of Uptown who has hoped and prayed for a complete restoration of this magnificent theatre to its original glory, this is rather disheartening news. In fact, it nearly made me cry.

  3. Me too, Kenny.

    Maybe we should start buying lottery tickets. If we hit the jackpot we can donate the money to the Uptown theater to get the renovation going!

  4. I would like it to be restored to it's glory but if that isn't going to happen I would just like to see the building turned into something useful.

    The longer it takes the less likely it will ever be restored.

  5. It wasn't the current owners who sold the organ console; it was sold back in 1962, nearly 50 years ago. Declining movie revenues at the time forced the sale of the organ and other furnishings to keep afloat. Vandalism and the related high insurance costs to protect some of the artwork forced the past owners to sell those, too. Some 90 major oil paintings and more than a dozen marble works were sold.

    Fortunately, there is still a lot of bling left, stored securely off site, and even in its downtrodden state, the theatre is still beautiful.