The Wurlitzer in The Mosque (Landmark)

As someone who remembers the Mosque and Eddie Weaver there, I want to do my part to get some attention to the current situation there. I am reposting a letter from Bill Van Pelt that will bring you current with what’s going on and give you a link to express your feeling to the government officials if you so desire. Note that Bill asks you to invite friends and other interested parties to share and comment. (There is a “share” button below for convenience.)

Subject: Landmark Theater Wurlitzer Imperiled

June 8, 2012

Dear Fellow Members, Richmond Chapter, AGO

RE: Wurlitzer pipe organ, Landmark Theater (formerly The Mosque)

After an upcoming renovation of the Landmark Theater was announced in the Times-Dispatch on Monday, May 7, it was learned that the theater management has plans to remove the Wurlitzer console soon, ostensibly to protect it when renovations get underway (perhaps years hence), but the console removal will actually serve a different goal: to free the space it occupies so that the space may be used for other purposes including additional seating.

The three-manual, 17-rank Wurlitzer pipe organ was installed when the building was completed in 1927 and has accompanied the lives of Richmonders ever since. The organ was famous for initiating the long-lived revival of interest in the theatre organ, generally, after World War II, when Richmond native Harold Warner renovated it and Reginald Foorte made his famous recordings on it in the early 1950s.

photo by John DeMajo

Removing the console will mean the currently playable instrument will become unplayable and possibly irretrievable unless plans and funding to reinstall it are both certain. During previous renovations of the building, the console of the organ remained in place and was protected via the construction of an inexpensive box-like cover made of 2×4 lumber, plywood, and plastic sheeting.

If the console is removed, re-installing it will be very expensive. For this reason, the console has not been removed or disconnected since it was installed in 1927.

Removal of the console would require severing the large cable containing thousands of individually cotton-wrapped copper wires which connect the keyboards, stops, and other controls of the console to the thousands of pipes and other mechanisms located in chambers which are situated behind grille work on both sides of the auditorium, just outside the proscenium. Reconnecting the console will cost tens of thousands of dollars (one competent estimate is $80,000) because the National Electrical Code requires such low-voltage control circuits to be entirely rewired with plastic-covered conductors in a cable, whereas existing cotton-covered conductors continue to meet the Code unless they are disconnected.

In generally approving the renovation of the Landmark Center, Richmond City Council has, in effect and perhaps unwittingly, approved killing the Wurlitzer. Had Council been fully informed, Council members surely would have been sensitive to the desire of constituents to keep this musical treasure of the city from becoming silent.

A knowledgeable consultant to the city, such as Lin Lunde (who would not seek the project for the firm he represents) should advise the City on the portion of this project affecting the organ, both for its protection and for planning its future use. Until correct information flows from a short study and it is absorbed, and a good plan is devised, Council MUST stop the impending and very embarrassing misstep. It is apparent that these matters are beyond the expertise or interest of the Landmark Theater’s management.

Please join me in writing to members of the Richmond City Council and inviting your friends and other interested parties to do so. Members of Council and their e-mail and post office addresses appear here:

http://www.richmondgov.com/CityCouncil/contacts.aspx

Today, I have written to each member of Council and to the Mayor, and to their liaisons, about the matter. I have done this in my own name, and not representing the AGO or any other entity. Thanks for considering it.

Bill Van Pelt

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13 Responses to The Wurlitzer in The Mosque (Landmark)

  1. Pingback: Renovations at Landmark Won’t Affect Organ | MMS Organ Music Blog

  2. Bill,
    Unfortunately the console has been disconnected! Here’s link to story done by Channel 6 TV.

    http://wtvr.com/2013/08/06/removal-of-wurlitzer-at-landmark-theater-strikes-a-passionate-chord/

  3. Hi Michael. I thought you would like to know that the Landmark Wurlitzer’s cables have been cut and it has been relocated to the back It is horrific! Wendy Wurlitzer

    • Yes, that’s horrible … and strange. It’s obvious to us but to the common construction worker …? That doesn’t excuse it. I remember my seeing the cable cut while visiting Atlantic City back in the early 70s. How anybody could do that is beyond my non-technical mind.

  4. Mack says:

    I too am saddened with this news, although never hearing the organ in person, I do have two of the recordings that Reginald Foorte, aka Michael Cheshire, made there for Cook Records. These can still be purchased through the Library of Congress, as they have the Cook masters, and do make copies for a fee. Let’s hope cool heads prevail and funds are found to restore the console to working order.

    Cheers,
    Mack

  5. Michael – Good news! The Wurlitzer console is safe and the Landmark has made assurances that the instrument will be preserved and renovated.

    From the pictures I have found, the console was originally in the orchestra pit, not to the left of the stage, and there was never an elevator for the console.

    Link to August 26, 2013 story:

    http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/local/city-of-richmond/landmark-organ-console-in-storage-renovation-planned/article_ff5c4c5f-bb38-5794-99e2-47ef67a79221.html

  6. Pingback: Richmond’s Landmark Organ Is Safe | MMS Organ Music Blog

  7. Tom McDaniel says:

    As a 16 year organ student of Charles Craig (FAGO) I had a normal teenager curiosity about organs and wandered into the Mosque one Saturday. There I met Harold Warner who was bringing the Wurlitzer back to life after a period of disuse. I was thrilled to be asked to hold notes for him as he regulated and tuned a rank of pipes. This led to a long friendship with him and the magnificent Wurlitzer. This was in the early fifties. What can I do now to help bring this to its 3well deserved glory? Tom McDaniel, Va Tech class of 1957.

    • Hi, Tom. I tried holding notes once … never again! It just drove me up the wall! I respect tuners so very much; it’s something I could never do.

      If you’re working your way through the blog, see my latest post on the Mosque/Landmark at http://michaelsmusicservice.com/blog/?p=5924 for more current news.

    • Tom,

      How fortunate you were to meet Harold Warner!

      I have collected a considerable amount of information about the organ and Harold. I have a clipped copy of his obituary but it does not include the date of his untimely, sad passing. I believe it may have been Labor Day weekend 1960. Do you know the date?

      Zach Reid of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, who did the August 26, 2013 story about the organ, received strong assurances from CenterStage, who manages the Landmark for the city, that they are committed to restoring the instrument!

      There seem to be varying opinions in the city about the restoration. Some want to restore the organ as originally installed but overlook the fact that the console was in the orchestra pit on opening night January 9, 1928 rather than to the left of the stage. There’s also the issue of the cotton covered wiring. Others, including myself, believe the infrastructure of the organ should be restored with modern electronics while retaining the look and feel of the console and the instrument’s sound.

      Contrary to some reports, the instrument was not playable even before the cable was cut.

      What is needed are funds for restoration that I am told will most likely exceed $500,000. I am hopeful that the fund raising effort will begin soon.

      I strongly believe that the instrument will be restored to its well deserved glory!

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