THE THEATRE ORGAN

Robert Hope-JonesRobert Hope-Jones (1859-1914), Father of The Theatre Organ

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PAGE ELEVEN:

THE WURLITZER ORGAN OF THE FORMER
EMPIRE CINEMA LEICESTER SQUARE
NOW INSTALLED AT
THE HOME OF MR. LEN RAWLE

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THIS PAGE IS WRITTEN IN CONJUNCTION WITH GLEN TWAMLEY (FRIENDS OF BEER WURLITZER)

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A VISIT TO TONAWANDA

??????????????????????Mr. Rawle at the Organ in his home

The following narrative and photograph series appear here with the permission of Mr. Len Rawle, the organist, and gives an account of the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ once installed at the Empire Cinema Leicester Square and which is now installed in his home, aptly named Tonawanda.

Empire 1 red.The Wurlitzer Organ of the Empire Cinema Leicester Square, Opus 1931.
The Organ weighed 20 tons and left the factory in North Tonawanda on 11th August, 1928 and was exported to the U.K. for installation at the Showplace of the Nation.
At the time of its installation, it was the largest 4-manual Organ in Europe.

Sandy Macphearson (1897-1975) was appointed Solo Organist for six months and
Reginald Foort  (1893-1980) as Orchestral Organist.  

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Mr. Rawle’s house is named in homage to the glorious Theatre Organs once manufactured at the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company in the a City of North Tonawanda.

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North Tonawanda is on the north side of the Eire Canal in Niagara County and is just to the north of the City of Buffalo in the northwestern part of New York State.

North Tonawanda is known as The Home of the Carousel since it was here that the Herschell-Spillman Company/Allan Herschell Co. was founded, which went of to become one of the leading manufacturers of carousels in the U.S. and now is home of the Herschell Carousel Factory Museum.

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In 1888, Eugene de Kleist started the North Tonawanda Barrel Organ Factory here.  In 1909, the factory was taken over by the Wurlitzer Organ Company. 

wurlitzer_factory_1The Wurlitzer Organ Company, North Tonawanda 

The factory went on to became one of the largest musical instrument manufacturing plants in the world.  Over two thousand theatre organs were built here together with a large number of other musical instruments, as well as Juke Boxes, which were manufactured here until 1973.

Wurlitzer-Jukebox-Collage reduced for EMPIREWurlitzer Juke Boxes

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When the management of the Empire Leicester Square decided to dispense with its theatre organ, Mr. Rawle managed to secure its purchase.  The organ was removed from the cinema  in 1962 and installation began in his home in Northolt.  In took him and helpers until 1966 to complete the process and have it ready for playing.

The first organist to officially play the newly installed organ was Gerald Shaw (1911-1974), who had been the last resident organist of the Odeon Leicester Square, and who incidentially, had been responsible for naming the Compton Theatre Organ installed there, The Duchess.

Gerald ShawGerald Shaw (1911-1974) – This photograph appears on the website of Charles Grindwood

Click here to see and hear Mr. Gerald Shaw playing a number of Theatre Organs

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Click here to watch a documentary on the Organ in  Mr. Rawle’s home (begins at 4m 50s)

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When Mr. Rawle and his family decided that they were going to move, they built their new home to accommodate a large organ chamber for the huge number of pipes.  The Rawles named their new home Tonawanda.

TonaBldChbrBricks smallerBuilding of Tonawanda

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VIEWS OF THE PIPES IN THE ORGAN’S NEW CHAMBER

TonaGamba16 smallerMr. Rawle installing the Gamba Rank

Len Rawle - Pipes Collage 1Mr. Rawle among the Organ Pipes

Len Rawle - Pipes Collage 2TONAWANDALOUNGE smallerThe Organ Console in the Lounge of Tonawanda

Today, the console of the organ sits in the lounge where it is played often and has been played by a number of other visiting Theatre Organ Virtuosos.

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In November 2014, I was fortunate enough to be invited to Tonawanda to meet Mr. and Mrs. Rawle.  I was received with great kindness and graciously treated to a short recital by Mr. Rawle playing this wonderful instrument.

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THE ORGAN CONSOLE TODAY

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???????????????????????????????The Console Keyboard

???????????????????????????????The Pedal Board & Swell Pedals

Console CollageDecorative Details of the Console

At the Console CollageMr. Rawle at the Console

???????????????????????????????Relaxing after the Recital

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Len Tonawanda record cover Red.

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CLICK HERE
TO READ ABOUT
EXPORTING EUROPE’S LARGEST
WURLITZER THEATRE ORGAN TO THE U.K.

OR

CLICK HERE
TO RETURN TO
IMPORTING THE U.K.’s FIRST 4-MANUAL
WURLITZER ORGAN

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank Mr. Len Rawle for inviting me into his home and for graciously tolerating my questions, which I am sure he has answered a thousand times before, and allowing me to photograph him at his leisure. I also would like to thank him for allowing me to publish his photographs of the organ’s ranks.

I would also like to extend my thanks to Mrs. Rawle for her kindness.

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