For Sale: One Wurlitzer Theater Organ

Mar 29, 2021

This 1928 Wurlitzer pipe organ can be yours for the right price.

Media Heritage, the local nonprofit broadcasting history archives, is looking for someone interested in a big, old vintage theater organ.

"My hope is that it will find a good home, and be played for the public. That's my goal," says Mike Martini, president of Media Heritage, which has a Greater Cincinnati Museum of Broadcast History display at the National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting in West Chester Township.

"But even if someone wants it for their private residence, it's better than nothing," says Martini, 56, a host and producer at WMKV-FM, the nostalgia station broadcasting from Maple Knoll Village in Springdale.

Media Heritage acquired the mighty Wurlitzer organ from a private collector in 2010. Cincinnati-based Wurlitzer built it for the Mayflower Theatre in Troy, Ohio, north of Dayton, to accompany silent films and vaudeville performances.

Credit Courtesy Media Heritage

The Opus 1787 model has two keyboards, a giant blower, slatted shades which open and close pneumatically, and six ranks (or sets) of pipes. Each rank has 70-90 pipes, for a total of nearly 600 pipes. (One of six ranks is shown above.)

"It's huge. Some of the pipes are 15-feet long," he says. "It takes up a lot of space. It's not a plug-and-play instrument."

According to a 1928 newspaper story, a "single organist" could control "a full complement of metal and wooden pipes" producing sounds for a piano, harp, xylophone, banjo, trumpet, violin, viola, saxophone, cymbals, snare and base drums, flute, glockenspiel, sleigh bells and a "full set of cathedral chimes."

Newspaper advertisement for the Mayflower Theatre.
Credit Courtesy Media Heritage

It can provide a variety of sound effects, including ooga horns, train whistles, caroling birds, galloping horses, raging wind, thunder, rain, a siren and door bell.

Martini originally hoped to display it at the VOA, but the Wurlitzer is not going to be part of the museum's renovation and expansion. Currently it's in storage at the VOA.  The large wooden console and pipes take up about 75% of a 40-foot storage container, he says.

One out-of-state prospective buyer has expressed an interest in the organ to strip it for parts. "Very few organs remain intact today, unfortunately," he says.

Martini hopes to find someone who would love it as much as he does. Perhaps a theater would want it? A community center or an auditorium?

"It's big – but small compared to many Wurlitzer theater organs," he says.

In the early 20th century, most theaters had a Wurlitzer. WLW-AM had three. WKRC-AM had one. So did some funeral homes and private residences. Music Hall ballroom has a Wulitzer which previously was played at the old Albee Theatre on Fifth Street, and later Emery Theatre at Walnut Street and Central Parkway.  

Wurlitzers used to be a featured attraction at a couple restaurants in the 1980s, including the Springdale Music Palace (now Hooters) and the old Shady Nook on US 127 between Millville and Oxford.

There are approximately four more Wurlitzers in homes through Greater Cincinnati, he says.

Martini is also looking for climate-controlled storage space for Media Heritage, founded in 2000. The archives has memorabilia from TV host Ruth Lyons; her bandleader Cliff Lash; singers Bonnie Lou, Marian Spelman and Judy Perkins; radio personalities Stan Matlock and James Francis Patrick O'Neill; Cincinnati TV producer Fred Ziv (Sea Hunt, Highway Patrol, Cisco Kid); and Larry Smith's puppets and his castle and treehouse TV sets.

His top priority, however, is the Wurlitzer. Time runs out on the storage unit April 30.

"I have to make a decision, or it will get 'parted out' and be lost forever. Basically, I'll take the best offer."

Anyone interested may contact Martini by email (info@mediaheritage.com) or phone (513-782-2791).