Fox Theater wants an organ from the silent movie era

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – It has taken 91 years for the Fox Theater to celebrate its 90th birthday, thanks to the ongoing pandemic, but its supporters are not taking a break. They have plans for the old majestic cinema and the concert hall: the silent sound of a cinema organ in the era of cinema.

The Fox Theater Foundation has spent years and thousands and thousands of dollars to restore the old classical theater to its original appearance. Now he is embarking on a new adventure. Theater director Matt Spindler would like to bring a classic Wurlitzer organ to Fox – the genre that served as the soundtrack to silent films in the 1920s, before talkie films became technologically and economically feasible. Spindler says the addition of an organ would be a huge step in the ongoing efforts to restore the grande dame. But the foundation will have to make compromises.

“Part of the hope was to acquire an original pipe organ in which you would put the parts back into the original chambers and play an old instrument there,” he said. “There are a lot of challenges there. “

Namely, the cost. Not just the price of an old, original theatrical-grade Wurlitzer, but the cost of refurbishment, maintenance and installation, maybe half a million dollars, Spindler said. But there is an alternative.

“Hope is changed and tweaked a bit,” Spindler said. “We have discovered that there are reconstructions of instruments like the Mighty Wurlitzer that sound and sound exactly the same as an old theater organ. They were just played through a computer and through our very impressive sound system.

And at a fraction of the cost. But still not cheap. Maybe $ 100,000, according to Spindler. Acquiring a new age Wurlitzer would allow Fox to offer customers a sample of the theatrical experience when Fox first opened 91 years ago.

“Originally, with silent films, these organs were installed as a kind of heart of the building,” Spindler said. “You had the movie delivered here and before the movie played you had an organist with a cue sheet, learning what to play while the movie was being played.”

After the arrival of talking cinema, the house organist performed during the intermissions, and before and after the show. This experience, according to Spindler, is something that many Fox admirers in the community would appreciate. All it takes, once this fundraising effort is officially announced in the coming days, is some generosity from the community – which the theater manager knows to be very abundant in Bakersfield.

If you’d like to participate in the return of the old Fox Theater organ – or a facsimile close to it – call the Fox Theater Foundation at 661-324-1369.