We are thrilled to announce the official premiere of the now fully restored Fox Tucson Theatre Might Wurlitzer Organ on October 30, 2021. This Wurlitzer was originally donated by Dr. Malin Dollinger, and its restoration and reinstallation over the past decade has been generously funded by the Southwest Foundation for Education and Historic Preservation, the March and Ampel Family Fund, and hundreds of individual donors.
The restoration process involved carefully disassembling and inspecting parts to then clean, adjust, repair and or replace them (with vintage or reproduction pieces). In the words of Fox Board Member, and Organ Task Force Chair, Andy McWhirter, “Those familiar with a Wurlitzer Theatre Organ’s range of sound and the ‘near perfect’ acoustics of the Fox Tucson Theatre are giddy with anticipation as we all wait for that next organist to sit down and perform on our Fox Tucson Theatre Mighty Wurlitzer! “
When the Fox Tucson Theatre opened on April 11, 1930, an integral element of this and nearly every other ‘Movie Palace’ built in that era was the theater pipe organ. Invented by Robert Hope-Jones and originally named the Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra, this instrument was different from a church organ in that the modifications and electrified switch system permitted any combination of pipes and effects to be played at once. For the newly popular silent movies, one musician could create the sounds of a full orchestra, and a multitude of sound effects such as birds, pistol shots, a moving train, whistles, horse hooves, rain, and thunder. Hope-Jones collaborated with the successful organ producer Rudolph Wurlitzer to manufacture the Wurlitzer Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra later dubbed The Mighty Wurlitzer. Unfortunately, in the 1950s the Fox Tucson Theatre’s original ‘Mighty Wurlitzer’ was sold for parts. However, in 2002 good fortune found its way back to the Fox in the form of Dr. Malin Dollinger. Midway through the Fox Theatre restoration, Dollinger generously donated his meticulously cared for, 1922 four-manual, 27 rank Wurlitzer organ, to the theatre.
Theater organs were and still are, considered technological marvels. There is the console, pipes, thousands of moving parts, miles of electric wiring, and an enormous amount of pressurized air paths. At the Fox Tucson Theatre, the pipe chambers (3000 pipes) are behind the walls on both sides of the stage. Dollinger’s donated organ console–the part of the organ where the organist sits and plays the keyboard, stops, and pedals–is positioned on an under-stage hydraulic lift (built in 2005 during the theater restoration).