Milwaukee Film’s recent restoration of the Oriental Theatre has turned the stunning East Side movie palace into a really, really stunning East Side movie palace. But one element has been missing: a big ol’ pipe organ that pops up from under the stage in the main theater. Happily, after a years-long process, a big ol’ pipe organ that pops up from under the stage in the main theater is BACK.
On November 8, Milwaukee Film will host a $200-ticket unveiling/fundraiser for the Oriental’s latest addition: a newly restored 1925 Wurlitzer pipe organ. The instrument—provided by pipe organ restorer Jeff Weiler of JL Weiler, Inc.—was secured by Milwaukee Film in 2019 and is described as “one of the last few remaining in the world and maintains all of its original period elements and sound.”
We were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the “Mighty Wurlitzer” as it was being tested and tuned. It’s super cool!
And super BIG. The organ’s console—a.k.a. the main instrument with all the keyboards and pedals and stuff—is located to the right of the stage, but its pipes and other components are housed in a separate room located above the stage. This chamber is kept between 72 and 74 degrees. It’s loaded with pipes, chimes, drums, and cymbals.
And what makes the pipe organ, you know, blow? A blower, of course, located in the basement next to the Rocky Horror Picture Show dressing room.
The newly restored Wurlitzer was originally installed in the Paramount Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia. The Oriental’s original Oshkosh-built Barton pipe organ was installed when the theater opened in 1927 and removed in 1959. After that, a 1931 Kimball pipe organ lived at the theater from 1991 until 2018.
Beyond the November 8 unveiling—which will feature a live organ performance accompanying Harold Lloyd’s 1923 silent classic Safety Last—Milwaukee Film is open to utilizing the organ for both special events and other screenings. Stay tuned.
“I can’t tell you how delighted we are that the installation process of our own Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ has reached its final phase, and is ready to be unveiled to the public,” says Susan Mikulay, Milwaukee Film Board Chair, in a recent press release. “Milwaukee Film has always been a champion of cinematic history and culture, and the addition of this instrument to our majestic Oriental Theatre reflects its historic and significant importance.”