DPI Photo
Wichita Wurlitzer
 March 2018  


Broadway and Hollywood in Wichita

Brett Valliant, Tuesday, May 8, 2018, 7:30 PM 

The Replacement Console
William J. Bunch, President, Balcolm & Vaughan Pipe Organs, Inc., is installing the manufacturer's plate shown below.  The new console was shipped in late 1971 to Wichita where the decorative ormalu was added  by Gaskill Custom Cabinetry.  The completed console was then delivered to Century II for installation.
Wichita and its Wurlitzer
Wichita stands shoulder to shoulder with Detroit, Hollywood, New York, and St. Louis where similar Wurlitzer's are installed. The other cities are 4 to 30 times Wichita's size.  50 years ago the opportunity to bring the Wurlitzer to Wichita was presented and visionary Wichita leaders accepted.
Wurlitzer's standard instruments were ordered by 'Style' or catalog number.  Wurlitzer custom instruments were called 'Specials' which were either individual or a limited number of instruments.  The six largest instruments built by Wurlitzer are shown below.  The table lists original sizes and locations with the current size and location. 
Why is the Wichita Wurlitzer Special?
All Wurlitzer organs were built, assembled, voiced, and tuned at the factory.  The instruments were then shipped and installed in the theatres with final tuning completed after the installation.  The Wichita Wurlitzer is special because of the customization done by Jesse Crawford and Daniel Papp.  
'Crawford, known as The Poet of the Organ, is generally considered the greatest theatre organist of all time - the Fritz Kreisler of the keyboards. ...the artistry of Crawford and the majesty of the Wurlitzer tone made this organ the greatest of them all - the envy of every other city.' (Jack Bethards, President and tonal director of Schoenstein & Co. established in 1877) 
Papp was an organ technician who worked for Wurlitzer before he was hired to work with Crawford at the Chicago Theatre.  Papp moved to New York when Crawford was hired by the New York Paramount. 
The New York Paramount Wurlitzer is sometimes referred to as a Crawford Special suggesting that Crawford created the instrument specifications.  In actuality, Crawford asked for some specific ranks but the instrument was specified by Wurlitzer.
What Crawford and Papp accomplished can be compared to an artist like James Taylor ordering a guitar and asking for customization.  The changes may be like substituting a different wood for the body or using different strings or other modifications to tailor the guitar's tonal characteristics. 
Papp used his technical expertise to implement Crawford's vision for the Wurlitzer's tonal ensemble.  All of this work occurred after the Wurlitzer installation work was completed.  The New York Paramount Wurlitzer was the only instrument that Crawford and Papp customized. 
After Crawford left the Paramount, Papp stayed until his retirement and was a consultant for the Wichita Wurlitzer installation.  He passed away before the Wichita premiere.  After his passing, Papp's widow, Teresa, sent his tools to Wichita to finish the Wichita Wurlitzer's installation and to be used to maintain the instrument.  Teresa was in Wichita for the premiere and a short time later moved to Wichita to be with her new Wichita family.  She lived in Wichita until her passing.
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