THE SUBURBIAN WURLITZER
A BLAST FROM THE PAST

John C. Becica


Suburbian Wurlitzer
1977 Album Cover – Frank Cimmino plays the Suburbian Wurlitzer
(Rare LP – only a couple of hundred records were pressed)
Note the 13 star flag for the American Bicentennial in 1976.

Most of us are aware of the numerous Theatre Pipe Organs which have been played in Pizza Parlors, but here is the story of a Wurlitzer installation, envisioned and created by a prominent northern New Jersey organist, which provided appreciative patrons with music for dining and dancing in a continental cuisine setting. It is also the story of a venue which helped launch a local theatre organ society!

Shipped from the North Tonawanda factory on November 23, 1927, the 3/17 modified Theatre Pipe Organ on this album cover began its life as Opus 1793, a 3/15 Style 260 SP Wurlitzer.  It was first installed at the RKO Chester Theatre, Bronx, N.Y. (The building still stands today. It can be seen from the Cross Bronx Expressway with the fading stenciled words “Chester Theatre” on the stage house.)   

Thirty-eight years later in 1965, Opus 1793 traveled from the theatre to ATOS Charter Member Richard Loderhose on Long Island, where it remained in storage until 1969.  North Jersey theatre organist Frank Cimmino (pronounced cha-ME-no) then arranged for it to be installed at a restaurant where he was entertaining.

Frank Cimmino began his musical training under the tutelage of his mother, Ethel, a pianist, composer and instructor. He became widely known throughout the New York/New Jersey area as a theatre organ concert performer, a popular entertainer, an organ teacher of theatre organ, and an organ designer, technician, and voicer for both pipe and electronic instruments.

He served for a time as house organist at the Beacon Theatre on Broadway in NYC, where he performed at the 4/19 Style 250 SP Wurlitzer for shows featuring Bob Hope, Peggy Lee, and other famous entertainers.

Suburbian Wurlitzer
Frank Cimmino Circa 1982-1983
(Dawson Collection)
 
Since 1968 Frank had been playing his Rodgers 33E analog electronic theatre organ at Jimmy and Bobby Provissiero’s Suburbian restaurant. The 33E was a custom instrument designed by Frank for himself. The Rodgers factory liked the organ so much that they made it a regular production model.

The Provissiero’s establishment, founded in 1962, served continental cuisine with a full bar, and was located in a vintage house at Belvidere Avenue off Conklintown Road, an obscure location in Wanaque, New Jersey.  Wanaque, pronounced WHAN-a-cue, is a relatively rural northwest Passaic County town in northern New Jersey. It is best known for the huge Wanaque Reservoir located there.

When an addition to the Suburbian restaurant was planned to bring the capacity to over 200, provision was made for organ chambers, a dance floor, and a rotating mirrored ball suspended from the ceiling. Opus 1793 was installed in the new addition by Warren Westervelt Organ Company under Frank Cimmino’s artistic supervision.

The main and solo chambers flanked the percussion chamber, all with glass windows for viewing by the diners. The three sets of shades were installed horizontally above the windows, and covered with grille cloth. The percussions were painted with luminous paint and lighted with a black light, and the original Wurlitzer instrument was enhanced with two added Robert Morton ranks – a second Tibia Clausa, and a second Vox Humana. The Style 260 Wurlitzer Saxophone rank was not installed, however. It had been previously replaced with a Morton English Post Horn.

The original upright piano did not come with the organ, so it was replaced with a Welte-Mignon reproducing grand piano with a mirror behind the keys to emphasize their automatic movement when played from the organ console.  The piano was unenclosed, located in an alcove to the far left of the dining room. All the other Style 260 percussions were installed: Marimba, Glock, Xylophone, Chimes, Tuned Sleigh Bells, and Chrysoglot.  A full range of Traps and Toys was also included: Snare, Bass, Kettle and Tom-tom Drums, Crash and Jazz Cymbals, Tambourine, Castanets, Wood Block, Triangle, Surf, Auto Horn, Thunder, Fire Gong, Train Whistle, Door Bell, Horses Hoofs, Siren, Bird Call, and Aeroplane.

The organ debuted at the restaurant on July 4th weekend, 1971. The console was placed on a raised platform at the right rear corner of the dance floor with a giant fisheye mirror for the organist to view the patrons behind him.  Several cut down and mounted Brass Trumpet pipes stood decorating the top of the console. Frank (assisted from time to time by young protégé Ralph Ringstad, Jr.) entertained diners 5 nights a week (every night the restaurant was open - Wednesday through Sunday), for the next 10 years. He also played occasionally for special afternoon parties. Local artist Andy Kasparian also played at the Suburbian for a time.

The restaurant was described as offering “Continental cuisine, Wurlitzer music, and dancing in an elegant Mediterranean setting”.  Its mottos were “Home of the Roman Table”, and “Hard to Find, but Worth the Search”.

Suburbian Wurlitzer
Interior view of the Suburbian from the dance floor. The
bar and the original dining room are up the steps behind
the white decorative wrought iron. Patrons who wished to
converse during dinner knew to be seated in the original
dining room where the lessened organ volume would serve
as background music.(Post Card- Stehle Collection)

Frank Cimmino was a showman and an entertainer, not just an organist. One can imagine the scene with dim lighting for dining and dancing, lit chambers, blacklit percussions, and the sparkling mirrored rotating ball as patrons danced to arrangements such as “I Don’t Know Why”, “You Made me Love You”, and “Moonlight Serenade”.  Fine dining, dancing, and superb Wurlitzer organ music turned out to be a dynamite combination for the successful restaurant.

Many nights Frank’s mother, Ethel, was in attendance, table hopping and visiting with the guests.

On November 11, 1972, a little over a year after the Wurlitzer’s introduction, 77 Charter Members lead by Bob Balfour, Walter Froehlich, and Joe and Jinny Vanore met at the Suburbian to officially form The Garden State Theatre Organ Society. The following July, the group was granted a charter as an ATOS Chapter.

Eight subsequent visits to the venue by GSTOS members included concerts by Charter Member Frank Cimmino, by well known local organist Jerry Mendelson, and numerous Open Consoles, including a Christmas Party in 1979. Open Console on March 23,1980, however, was to be our last visit. We shall soon learn why – read on!

During his years playing Opus 1793 at the restaurant, Frank Cimmino recorded three LPs: “Dining at the Suburbian”, “Christmas Joy”, and “The Suburbian Wurlitzer”.  All were produced in relatively small quantities, and thus are rare today. They are the only known recordings of the organ as installed at the Suburbian.

Suburbian Wurlitzer
Frank Cimmino entertains at the Suburbian Wurlitzer circa 1980
(Note the trumpet pipes and the lighted nameplate on top of the console)

Suburbian Wurlitzer
Organist Ralph Ringstad, Jr. in 1983 at age 22

Ten years after the organ’s debut, on Wednesday, August 26, 1981 at about 11:30 PM, tragedy struck. The restaurant caught fire, caused by faulty wiring in the original house. It took until about 4:30 AM to put out the inferno.  The older part of the building was reduced to rubble. The newer dining room and the organ were badly damaged.  The console was burned, and the contents of the chambers suffered from water, smoke, soot, and tremendous heat which melted components. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

After the fire, the few restorable parts of the instrument had to be sold as salvage.

The Robert Morton English post horn went to Chaminade High School’s 3/15 Austin-Morton in Mineola, Long Island. (A replacement for the original Wurlitzer Brass Saxophone, the Morton rank came from the RKO Keith’s, Richmond Hill, NY via Richard Loderhose)

The console went to the late Ken Ladner of Hicksville, LI. (Ken was an instrumental person in the installation of the Chaminade organ).  Ken reworked the burned console in the style of the Radio City Music Hall consoles, and planned to hook it up to 7 ranks of pipes set up in his garage.  He died unexpectedly, however, before he was able to install a relay. As of 2013, his widow still has the rebuilt Suburbian console in her living room.

The Glock, Xylophone, Marimba and 16’ Wurlitzer Tibia extension went to the New York Theatre Organ Society’s 3/12 Wurlitzer at the Middletown Paramount, Middletown, N.Y.

The disposition of any other usable parts is unknown.

Ever the optimist, at the time of the fire Frank Cimmino predicted that the venue would be rebuilt and a bigger and better organ installed. His prediction did not come true. Before the fire patronage had been slowly declining, and the restaurant was never rebuilt. The land was finally redeveloped in 1993 when Suburbian Village, consisting of 9 townhouses, was sited on the property. 

Gone is the Suburbian Wurlitzer (1981).

Gone are artists Frank Cimmino (2008) and Ralph.Ringstad, Jr. (2010)

Gone are Society organizers Bob Balfour (2004) and Jinny Vanore (2012).

But The Garden State Theatre Organ Society, founded at a unique Wurlitzer dining and dancing establishment, continues on today, stronger than ever!



Thanks to Tom Stehle, Michael Cipolletti, Dan and Elaine Dawson, Dave Kopp, Pete Panos, and Brother Bob Lahey for contributing the bulk of the information for this article.

John Becica first met Frank Cimmino in 1963 when Frank was working as a demonstrator at the DeWaard Brothers Rodgers dealership in Monsey, New York, just over the state line from New Jersey. During the summers of his high school years in the mid 1960’s John took theatre organ lessons from Frank. After John left for college, they lost touch.  John continued playing his early version 1963 Rodgers Trio 320, and never knew anything about the Suburbian Restaurant, or local theatre organ societies, for that matter. It wasn’t until 1996 that by happenstance he discovered GSTOS and ATOS. He has been active as the editor of Pedals and Pipes, the GSTOS newsletter for the past 12 ˝ years, and feels privileged to piece together the story of the Suburbian Wurlitzer from those who were actually there to experience it.



The Suburbian Wurlitzer

 Ranks
1. Tibia Clausa I (Solo) (Added Morton Rank)
2. Tibia Clausa II (Main) It played simultaneously with Tibia I
3. Vox Humana I (Solo) (Added Morton Rank)
4. Vox Humana II (Main) It played simultaneously with Vox I
5. Viol d’Orchestre (Main)
6. Viol Celeste (Main)
7. Solo String (Solo)
8. Robert Morton English Post Horn (Solo) (Replaced Wurlitzer Brass Saxophone)
9. Brass Trumpet (Solo)
10. Oboe Horn (Solo)
11. Orchestral Oboe (Solo)
12. Kinura (Solo)
13, Quintadena (Solo)
14. Tuba Horn (Main)
15 Clarinet (Main)
16. Concert Flute (Main)
17. Diaphonic Diapason (Main)

Percussions
1. Marimba
2, Glockenspiel
3. Xylophone
4. Chimes
5. Tuned Sleigh Bells
6. Chrysoglot
7. Grand Piano

Traps & Toys
1. Snare Drum
2. Bass Drum
3. Tom-tom
4. Crash Cymbal
5. Jazz Cymbal
6, Kettle Drum
7. Tambourine
8. Castanets
9. Wood Block
10 Triangle
11. Surf
12 Auto Horn
13 Thunder
14 Fire Gong
15 Train Whistle
16 Door Bell
17 Horses Hoofs
18 Siren
19 Bird Call
20 Aeroplane



The Suburbian Wurlitzer - Discography


Suburbian Wurlitzer
“DINING AT THE SUBURBIAN” HMR 1082
Frank Cimmino plays the Suburbian Wurlitzer

Released 1977.
Recorded by HMR, Productions, Inc.
Scotch Plains, N.J.
Harry M. Randel

Tracklist

A1 Tonight
A2 If
A3 Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree
A4 Today
A5 Spanish Eyes
A6 The Way We Were

B1 All Because of Spring (Ethel M. Cimmino, composer- Frank’s mother)
B2 Beer Barrel Polka
B3 And I Love You So
B4 Loco Locomotive
B5 Bridge Over the River Kwai
B6 The Party’s Over

________________________________________________________________

Suburbian Wurlitzer
“CHRISTMAS JOY” HMR 1083
Frank Cimmino at the Suburbian Wurlitzer
 
Release date – Not printed on Album (Circa 1977- 1981)
Recorded by HMR, Productions, Inc.
Scotch Plains, N.J.
Harry M. Randel

Tracklist

A1 Christmas Joy (Ethel M. Cimmino, Composer – Frank’s Mother)
A2 I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
A3 Star of Bethlehem
A4 Winter
A5 Jingle Bells / Ring Merrily Bells
A6 Winter Wonderland
A7 Song of Joy

B1 Adeste Fidelis
B2 It Came Upon a Midnight Clear / Deck the Halls
B3 O Holy Night
B4 Hark the Herald Angels Sing
B5 Silent Night
____________________________________________________________

Suburbian Wurlitzer
“THE SUBURBIAN WURLITZER” HMR 1084
Frank Cimmino at the Organ

Release date – Not printed on Album (Circa 1977- 1981)
Recorded by HMR, Productions, Inc.
Scotch Plains, N.J.
Harry M. Randel

Tracklist

A1 S’ Wonderful
A2 I Don’t Know Why
A3 From This Moment On
A4 Moonlight in Vermont
A5 I Could Have Danced All Night
A6 Feelings
A7 In the Mood

B1 Moonlight Serenade
B2 You Made Me Love You
B3 Remember
B4 Military Medley
        Marines March
        Caissons Go Rolling Along
        Army Air Corps
        Anchors Aweigh
        God Bless America
B5 Always
B6 Till Tomorrow