Loew's Jersey Theatre
4/23 Robert-Morton (Wonder Morton)
Theatre Pipe Organ

 

Loew's Jersey Wonder Morton Console - On The Lift

Photo: Bob Martin, 10/25/07

Loew's Jersey Wonder Morton Console - Front

Photo: Bob Martin, 10/27/07


Loew's Jersey Wonder Morton - Organ Preview Movies

November 3, 2007
Ralph Ringstad Jr. playing the Wonder Morton at the GSTOS organ preview event for chapter members.

Wonder Morton movies:

IT PLAYS !

Bob Martin, Loew's Jersey Wonder Morton Crew Chief - October 17, 2007

Current Console Specification

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

Bob Balfour with the organ blower on moving day July 26,1997

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. 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 1774 pipes, some 16 feet long and others 5 inches long. It has 228 stops, over 9000 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. 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.

Loew's Jersey Wonder Morton Plays !!  July 14, 2007
 
Loew's Jersey Wonder Morton

Paul Citti at the console !


Photo: Susan Solan - Friends of the Loew's
Bob Martin, Crew Chief of the Loew's Jersey organ project, reports that the Wonder Morton is playing from the console as of 12:00 noon July 14, 2007.

Last week Wednesday the last of the console relay boards arrived. During Thursday's work session the boards were installed and tested. Saturday there was more testing and finally the organ played for the first time from the console.

Long time crew member Paul Citti played the organ for over 4 hours with only 3 ciphers the whole time. The shades are very quiet. The organ's basses, tuned percussion and other pipes' sounds get out of the chambers well.

There is still tuning, more testing, and regulation needed before the organ is publicly heard.

Another larger picture here - Photo: Bob Martin

 Pictures and tour of organ work:


History

This massive organ is one of five such ultra-deluxe musical instruments built around 1928 - 1929 by the Robert-Morton Pipe Organ Company of Van Nuys, CA that were installed in the large Loew's New York metropolitan area "Wonder Theatres". The Robert-Morton organs with their splendidly built large scale pipework and impressive consoles were well suited both sonically and visually for the spacious movie palaces.

The original Loew's Jersey organ provided music for theatre patrons from opening day September 28, 1929 until it was removed around 1970. It eventually made its way to the Arlington Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA, where it plays today. Around the same time the Jersey organ was removed, the Loew's Paradise organ was also removed.

The Wonder Morton in Loew's Jersey today is a different organ than the instrument Robert-Morton originally installed. In an amazing story of "musical chairs" (or musical organs) GSTOS acquired the complete Loew's Paradise organ (minus electro-pneumatic relay) from a private collector in Chicago in 1997.

 
5 Wonder Theatres

1. Loew's Valencia
165-11 Jamaica Ave., Queens, NY

2. Loew's Kings
1049 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, NY

3. Loew's Paradise
2413 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY

4. Loew's 175th
4140 Broadway New York, NY

5. Loew's Jersey
Journal Square Jersey City, NJ

Map of all 5

The "new" organ arrived at Loew's Jersey with great excitement on Saturday July 26, 1997. Since then, volunteers from the Garden State Theatre Organ Society have spent over 45,000 hours working on the tens of thousands of parts in this instrument.

Loew's Paradise Exterior
Loew's Jersey Exterior
Vintage exterior view of the Loew's Paradise
(circa 1974) Photo courtesy of Jean
Loew's Jersey Exterior
(from Friends of the Loew's, Inc.)

Other Wonder Morton Links

Loew's Jersey City Solo Chamber
Loew's Jersey Solo Chamber

Photo: Tony Rustako Aug. 2005

Wonder Morton Recordings

New CD Release

The Wonders Of It All
features Lee Erwin playing the former
Loew's Kings & Loew's 175th Wonder Mortons.

Order form and more information

Publications

40 page Annual #29 for 2002 covers the 5 Wonder Theatres.
Theatre Historical Society of America
152 N. York St.
Elmhurst, IL 60126-2806
630/782-1800 fax 630/782-1802 

Wonder Theatre Locations