The Instruments

Paradise Theatre

ABOVE: Paradise Theatre (1928), Chicago, Illinois, designed by John Eberson. The now demolished movie palace housed one of three rare 5-manual Wurlitzer consoles (visible on left).

During the hey-day of silent films between the mid teens and late 1920’s, the variety of entertainment venues across this country centered around vaudeville, silent movies, community sing-a-longs, and other live stage productions in movie palaces in every town, large or small. Thousands of movie houses depended on live musical accompaniment for their silent movies, and while some smaller houses merely had pianos, the vast majority had theatre pipe organs. While these wonderful instruments were not inexpensive, even back then, it was far more affordable to have a “Mighty Wurlitzer” with a few house organists on staff than to pay for a full orchestra or even modest band to perform in the orchestra pit every day.

These organs became wildly popular and several different manufacturers jumped on the band-wagon to join the Wurlitzer company in order to have an organ in every movie house in the land. These organs are also known as “Unit Orchestras” as they can emulate many different sounds from the orchestra – from Wurlitzerpipe organ violins to flutes, oboes, trumpets, clarinets, and so on. Also unique to theatre pipe organs was the inclu