Oriental Theatre: Pipe Organ

Since our restoration of the Oriental Theatre began in 2018, we've had a big piece missing: a theater pipe organ. Through a partnership with Chicago-based JL Weiler, Inc., Milwaukee Film has found a world-class, fully original 1925 Wurlitzer theater organ, and we're going to give it a brand-new home right here in Milwaukee.

Read more about this fantastic instrument and how it's going to help our organization bring more movie magic to our incredible cinema palace.

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About the organ

Milwaukee Film has secured a 1925 Wurlitzer pipe organ that will be installed during its ongoing restoration work at the Oriental Theatre.

The organ was obtained through Jeff Weiler, a renowned expert in pipe organ restoration. According to Weiler, this is one of only about a dozen, out of thousands of Wurlitzer pipe organs produced in the 1910s-40s, that remains in its unaltered, factory-original state.

Wurlitzer theater organs were created to be the voice of silent film. Unlike the organ previously housed at the Oriental Theatre, this 94-year-old instrument maintains the original, period elements and sound. When installation is complete, audiences will hear the instrument exactly as it sounded in the 1920s.

Through its partnership with JL Weiler, Inc., the nonprofit Milwaukee Film was able to create a unique opportunity to secure a world-class organ for the theater, while meeting goals of sustainability and stewardship for funds from its capital campaign.

The Wurlitzer obtained by Milwaukee Film began its life at the Paramount Theater in Atlanta, where it remained until the 1950s.

Before it is installed at the Oriental Theatre, some restoration work on the building will need to be completed, after which a time window for installation will be identified. Both Weiler and Jackson expect the organ to be ready to play at the theater sometime before the end of 2020.

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Oriental Theatre Organ: FAQ

A pipe organ? At the Oriental Theatre? … Should I be excited about this?
Absolutely! Like all the great cinema palaces of its era, Milwaukee Film’s Oriental Theatre was meant to have a pipe organ to accompany silent films and serenade movie lovers through the ages. When the previous organ was removed from the theater before Milwaukee Film took over operations, it left an important and beautiful piece missing from this fabulous facility. Adding a pipe organ is a critical part of our restoration efforts.

What’s so special about the organ that’s going to be installed at the Oriental Theatre?
Several things make this instrument extraordinary:
1. It’s a 1925 Wurlitzer theater organ, which was created to be the voice of silent film.
2. It’s 94 years old, but all the elements are unaltered from their factory-original state.
3. Out of thousands of Wurlitzer pipe organs produced in the 1910s-40s, it’s one of maybe a dozen in the world that still maintains its original elements and sound.
4. IT’S PRETTY.

Can’t wait to hear it! When will the organ be installed?
We can appreciate your antici……..pation, but we have a little more work to do at the theater before the organ is installed. We’re planning to make the necessary updates at the Oriental Theatre this summer, after which we’ll work with JL Weiler, Inc., to schedule installation. All told, we expect the organ will be installed and ready to play before the end of 2020.

Remind me, what happened with the old organ?
The last organ at the Oriental Theatre, a 1931 Kimball, was removed and re-homed before Milwaukee Film took over operations in 2018. That instrument had been installed in 1991. The original pipe organ that was part of the building when it opened in 1927 was a Barton that had been built in Oshkosh. That organ was removed in 1959.

Where did this new/old organ come from?
The 1925 Wurlitzer obtained by Milwaukee Film began its life at the Paramount Theater in Atlanta, where it remained until the 1950s.

Can you give me just a little hint at what this magnificent pipe organ is going to sound like?
We found a video of a “Mighty Wurlitzer” theater pipe organ in Minnesota, and it’s similar to what we’ll be installing at the Oriental Theatre. Take a look/listen.