The Wonders Of It All

About These Recordings

Garden State Theatre Organ Society (GSTOS) founding member, the late Robert Balfour, recorded the original tapes that provided the basis for this CD in the early 1970’s.  The true essence of sound and performance was preserved by not using overzealous re-equalization to eliminate tape noise at the expense of the organ’s full fidelity. These archival recordings will give you a rare opportunity to hear two of the incredible Robert-Morton “Wonder Mortons" in their original venues as played by one of the Theatre Organ world’s legendary organists.  Crank up the volume and enjoy the magnificent sound of these rarely recorded Robert-Morton "Wonder Mortons"  in the former Loew's Kings Brooklyn, New York and the Loew's 175th St. theatres in Manhattan, New York featuring the artistry of the great Lee Erwin.

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About The Loew's  Robert-Morton / "Wonder Morton" Organs

In the late 1920’s Loew's Theatres decided to build a colossal movie palace in each of New York City’s five Boroughs.  They were certainly among the grandest palaces ever built in both size and atmosphere; therefore they were called the “Wonder Theatres”.  Interestingly, they were not all designed by the same architect and were each individual in their design.

They were built in Brooklyn (Loew's Kings), Queens (Loew's Valencia), the Bronx (Loew's Paradise) and Manhattan (Loew's 175th St.).  Staten Island, the fifth New York City borough, which had more than its share of deluxe movie palaces and a limited population, was passed over in favor of placing the fifth theatre in nearby Jersey City, NJ (Loew's Jersey).

To fill these magnificent theatres with appropriate organ music, Loew's contracted with the Robert-Morton Organ Company in Van Nuys, California to build five of the largest scale theatre organs the company ever produced.  The Solo Chamber pressures were twenty-five inches, the Main Chamber was fifteen inches, and the Vox's were on eleven inches of wind.  Accordingly, the organ sound becomes richer and fuller, whereas other organs would have to be at least twenty-eight to thirty-six ranks in order to fill a thirty-five hundred-seat theatre. Of the five similar four-manual, twenty-three rank organs built, only four remain today.  The consoles of these instruments are so ornate they are sometimes referred to as “Wedding Cake” consoles. 

The 175th St. organ is the only one remaining in its original site but is not currently playing.  The Kings organ was donated to New York City for installation in the legendary Town Hall and was removed for storage not long after this, the organ’s final recording was made.  Somehow, under the watch of New York City government, most of the organ’s parts mysteriously disappeared; all that remained was the console.   In 1998, the console was purchased from the New York Theatre Organ Society, restored to “as new” condition, and now controls a twenty-six rank instrument in a private home installation.  The Loew's Jersey organ was removed in the 1970’s and now plays in the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, California.

The organ from the Paradise Theatre in the Bronx is currently being totally rebuilt by members of the Garden State Theatre Organ Society, and installed in the Loew's Jersey Theatre, which is also being renovated.  More detailed information about this organ and other “Wonder Morton’s” is on www.gstos.org.   The organ in the Valencia Theatre was removed to a private home where it resided for many years.  Upon the passing of the owner, the organ was removed and is currently being installed in the Balboa Theatre in San Diego, California.

About The Artist, Lee Erwin

Dr. Lee Erwin, organist, pianist and composer, was born in Huntsville Alabama in 1908 and passed away at his home in Greenwich Village, New York, in September 21, 2000 at the age of 92.   Although his mother was a church organist, Lee did not have his first church organist position until after he graduated from College.  By then, he was already an experienced theatre organist.

In 1930, he traveled to Paris to study with French organists Andre Marshal and Nadia Ballinger.  Upon returning to Cincinnati in 1932, Lee became chief organist for the midnight program “Moon River: on Radio Station WLW.   Since WLW was the nation’s most powerful radio station at the time, the program could be heard all across the United States of America.   In 1945, he joined the CBS Radio Network in New York City to become organist, composer and arranger for the Arthur Godfrey Show.  At various times he provided background organ music for the popular “Amos and Andy” comedy program, and virtually every soap opera of that Era.

Lee embarked on a new career in 1967, providing accompaniment for silent motion pictures.  He believed each film should have its own music and quickly became known for his extraordinary scores.  The list of actors and famous films for which he prepared unique scores represents the   Who’s Who of the silent movie era.  In addition to his silent movie work, he played hundreds of classical and theatre organ concerts both here and abroad.

For an in-depth biography of this extraordinary legend of the organ,  please refer the article by Michael Hix in “Theatre Organ”, the Journal of the American Theatre Organ Society; September/October and November/December 2004 issues.

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The Lee Erwin Collection: The Music Of Silent Film Composer And Theater Organist Lee Erwin By Michael Thomas Hix
A Thesis submitted to the The Florida State University School of Music in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Music

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CD Track Listing

Loew's 175th St Theatre, NYC
1 Lee Erwin Introduction, “But Not for Me” (G. Gershwin)   (mp3 sample) 2:23
2 “The Eagle” Overture (Lee Erwin)   (mp3 sample) 6:41
3 Always ( Irving Berlin)   (mp3 sample)   3:53
4 Remember (Irving Berlin) 2:58
5 Audience Sing Along with Organ:
It’s A Grand Night for Singing (Richard Rodgers)
Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet (Percy Wenrich)
And The Band Played On (Palmer /Ward )
Tea for Two (Vincent Youmans)
Down by The Old Mill Stream (Tell Taylor)
Old Mac Donald Had A Farm (G. Cates)
5:57
6 Caprice Viennois  (Fritz Kreisler) 1:54
7 Someone to Watch Over Me (G. Gershwin) 3:25
8 Kiss Me Once, Kiss Me Twice, Kiss Me Once Again (Stynel/ Cahn) 1:39
9 Dream of Love (Franz Liszt  arr. By Lee Erwin) 4:12
10 “Jack and David” Theme from “Silent Movie Wings” (Lee Erwin) 2:17
“A Farewell To Loew's Kings" Recorded 1/20/74
11 “Aqua” (Lee Erwin)   (mp3 sample) 2:42
12 Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight  (Ted A. Metz) 0:58
13 Put on your Old Grey Bonnet (Percy Wenrich) 0:42
14 In My Merry Oldsmobile (Gus Edwards) 0:43
15 Tra-Ra Ra Boom –Der-E (H. J. Sayers) 0:29
16 Beautiful Isle of Somewhere (J. S. Fearis) 1:29
17 Cecelia (Dave Dreyer)   (mp3 sample) 1:16
18 Danny Boy – Traditional Irish Air –Lyrics: Fred Weatherly 2:28
19 Sidewalks of New York (James W. Blake) 0:33
20 Bill Bailey ,Won’t You Please Come Home (Hughie Cannon) 1:44
21 America The Beautiful (Samuel A. Ward) 1:23
22 Tootsie Oodles (Lee Erwin) 1:09
23 I’m Always Chasing Rainbows (Chopin , Harry Carroll) 1:19
24 April Showers (G. De Sylva) 0:59
25 Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head (Burt Backarach) 1:39
26 Look for The Silver Lining (Jerome Kern) 3:00
27 Over The Rainbow (Harold Arlen) 2:45
28 “The Eagle” Overture (Lee Erwin) 6:32
TOTAL TIME 59:10

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Credits

Special thanks to the Estate of Dr. Lee Erwin for supporting this project.

Original Recording Engineer Bob Balfour
Digital Mastering and Editing Ed Fritz Recording, Wayne, NJ
Distribution Coralie Dreyer
Liner Notes Don Hansen, President GSTOS
Editor Jason Taylor
Production Manager Ed Fritz
Photographs Bob Martin
Manufacturing and Printing Disc Makers, Pennsauken, NJ
Production Garden State Theatre Organ Society, Inc.  
Northern New Jersey's Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society

The CD © 2005 Garden State Theatre Organ Society.   All Rights Reserved.  Unauthorized duplication is a violation of applicable laws.