The Real Sound of Music

IT PLAYS!
The 4/23 Bob Balfour Memorial Robert Morton “Wonder Morton” Theatre Pipe Organ at The Landmark Loew’s Jersey

By Bob Martin, Loew’s Jersey Wonder Morton Crew Chief – Originally posted: October 17, 2007

The Robert Morton, Wonder Morton Theatre Pipe Organ, that was installed in the Paradise Theatre on Grand Concourse in New York City in 1929 was an exact duplicate, except for some console decoration, of the one that was installed in the Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Journal Square in Jersey City New Jersey in that same year.

Loew’s Jersey

The theatres, only 5 built, dubbed Wonder Theaters, because of their size and beauty were a wonder to behold with the most magnificent and elaborate ornamentation of any theatres in our area. Of the five such theatres built four were in New York and one in New Jersey, that one being The Loew’s Jersey Theatre at Journal Square in Jersey City.

No expense was spared on the buildings as well as the organs that graced the theatres. When the organ in Loew’s Jersey rose up on the organ lift and rotated around to reveal the console and organist as it thundered out the opening song of the evening in all its splendor of white and gold leaf, it could do no less then put the audience in a musical trance as they watched this event unfold in front of them.

This series of events took place night after night at movie shows, long after the rest of the area theatres gave up using their organs because of increased cost cutting. But due to public interest, the Loew’s Jersey Wonder Morton continued to entertain the movie going public. Eventually, when the movie industry fell on hard times and theatres started to close, the organ was removed and the theatre eventually went dark.

The same thing happened to the Paradise Theatre. That organ went to Nova Scotia for a time, then to Detroit, and then finally to Chicago where it was put into storage.

Loew’s Jersey Blower & Bob Balfour

When the Friends of the Loew’s, a non profit group of volunteers, took over the shuttered theatre and started the renovation of the building, Bob Balfour, a dedicated member of Garden State Theatre Organ Society began to lobby the theatre group to install the Paradise organ.

Photo: Bob Martin, 10/27/07

After a few years the deal was made and the organ society bought the organ and brought it to Jersey City for the humongous task of rebuilding, designing the installation and installing it in the theatre. This huge task was performed by a dedicated number of volunteers. The organ came with no erecting lumber so that had to be found in various theatres in New York and else where and fitted to the custom installation. Some of the pipes had to be straightened and repaired and a few made to replace the small numbers that were missing or broken beyond repair but the organ has all the original ranks that came with it at time of manufacture. Many of the ranks have the original factory voicer’s name on them and all have the original Morton numbers that the Morton Company assigned to them when the unit was made at the factory.

The organ has 4 manuals (keyboards) and 23 ranks (sets) of pipes for a total of 1,774 pipes, some 16 feet long and others 5 inches long. It has 228 stops, over 9,000 electrical connections and many miles of wire. The pipe work is located up in the theatre walls on ether side of the stage’s proscenium arch and speaks through two beautifully decorated archways with 2 custom chandeliers hanging in the center of the opening.

Photo: Tony Rustako, 08/2005

The organ has a massive 25 horsepower blower located in one of the lower levels of the Theatre. The entire instrument weighs approximately 24 tons.

After years of rebuilding, designing, and installing the organ, on Saturday July 14, 2007 the switch was finally thrown and the organ came alive to sound again in a Loew’s Wonder Theatre as it was designed to do 78 years ago. The organ, the soul of the theatre, already sounds beautiful even in its infant stages of tuning and debugging.

We will endeavor to have the instrument playing for its owners, the members of the Garden State Theatre Organ Society, as well as the Friends of the Loew’s in the very near future. We look forward to the grand opening of the organ for the general public and its continued enjoyment by the people of Jersey City and its surrounding area.

Learn more about the Garden State Theatre Organ Society

Enjoy It Now

Watch and hear Ralph Ringstad Jr. playing the Wonder Morton at the GSTOS organ preview event for chapter members on November 3, 2007 in these Wonder Morton movies on Youtube:

“Drums In My Heart” and “You”
“So In Love”
“Jeepers Creepers”
“Stairway To The Stars”
Medley – “The Words Are In My Heart”, “Dancing In The Dark”, “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody”
Encore – “I Only Have Eyes For You”