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Iconic Wurlitzer Organ restored by the Plaza Cinema

2 months ago

Iconic Wurlitzer Organ restored by the Plaza Cinema

The historic Plaza cinema in Waterloo will soon have an iconic Wurlitzer organ playing for film fans again.

Back in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, organ music was a regular feature at cinemas up and down the country. But the idea of live music with movie screenings fell out of popularity and, like most other venues, the Plaza Cinema had its organ removed in the 1970s.

Now, after research led them to find a Wurlitzer from the original period, fundraising has allowed the restoration to take place and manager Martin Fol hopes to unveil it to filmgoers in all its working glory this summer.

He explains:

“In 1939 the Plaza got a Compton organ installed, and in the 30s, 40s,50s and 60s it would have been used often but then things started changing and it was taken out in the 1970s. 

“The original one still exists, it’s in the Midlands with a collector, but across the whole of the country there aren’t many cinemas left that have got an organ.

“We made numerous enquiries over a period of time, it took 12 months to track one down, and in 2018 we finally acquired a Wurlitzer dating back to the 1930s. It was given to us free by a guy called Stuart Cranfield who lives in Brighton.

“It had originally been in a cinema in Scarborough and he had it in his garage so we hired a van to bring it back to Liverpool.”

Not in working order at the time, the organ spent its first two years in Waterloo in a container in the Plaza’s car park.

“Parts got shipped here, there, and everywhere – bits went to Sunderland, Cornwall, Leeds, to get repaired and restored but then obviously Covid kicked in and it just didn’t move.”

While the organ’s parts were brought back to use, the Plaza was busy getting ready for it to return and take up its home in the orchestra pit at the front of screen one.

“It needed rewiring, re-leathering, everything. The organ sits at the front of the screen and on the right and lefthand sides there are two rooms which used to be dressing rooms for the stars.

“We had the craftsmanship of Phil Gleig who started the work on one of those rooms ready to house all the organ’s workings; the pipes, chambers and the blower had to be put in on the upper and lower floor. 

“He sadly passed away and two other friends of the Plaza, Carl and Kevin, took over, doing the plastering, painting and electrics, but when we eventually get the organ going I want it to be a tribute to Phil.”

The final stages of the restoration are now being carried out by a team of specialists from Keighley in Yorkshire.

“There aren’t many people left who have the skills to restore an organ like this so one of the most difficult things for us has been finding the craftspeople to do the work.

“In September 2023 we were hoping it was going it be completed, and again at Christmas, but now we are really close so it should be this summer.

“We’ve just got a bench for the organist to sit on, the keys are all in place and it’s been computerized so we’ll be able to record music and then programme the organ to play it.”

Martin has managed to cover the cost of the Mighty Wurlitzer restoration with various fundraising efforts including film poster sales, merchandise like greetings cards and art deco art posters, and ticket sales. When customers buy tickets online there’s an option to donate.

He said:

“When we set out to do this we had no idea how big a project it was going to be, there have been delays and delays, but it will all have been worth it once it plays for the first time. It will be really emotional because it’s an amazing piece of history that’s getting rarer, and Plaza will have it.”

Find more information on the Plaza Cinema website.

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