The Lakewood Theater Pipe Organ
Theater organs and the sounds they produced were an integral part of most city movie theaters built during the 1920s. When you went to a "silent" film, in reality the movie was always accompanied by a thrilling score produced by a versatile musician sitting at the multiple keyboards of a pipe organ.
When "talking pictures" arrived in the late 1920s, there was
little need for theater organs (or organists) anymore, and one by one,
the instruments were scrapped, dismantled, or placed into storage. Such
was the original fate of the Lakewood's pipe organ.
Located on Elm Street in downtown Dallas, the Old Mill Theater was part of the city's "Theater Row" led by the grand Majestic Theater (and the only one still standing). By 1927 the Old Mill's original WurliTzer pipe organ was considered out of date, so it was replaced with an beautiful new 3-manual (keyboard) 8-rank (primary sets of pipes) organ built by the Robert-Morton Company of Van Nuys California. The organ was installed during the peak year for silent films...and the first year of the talking picture revolution.
The Old Mill's Morton organ saw service for 11 years until the theater
closed in 1938 (coincidentally, the year the Lakewood opened). The Old
Mill re-opened as the Rialto, but the organ was relegated to
basement storage. Before the building was eventually demolished, a lover
of pipe organs rescued the Morton console and equipment and stored it
away in a warehouse. He sold it to a funeral home in Austin, who later
sold it to a member of the North Texas chapter of the American Theater
In 1984 this organ collector arranged for the Morton to be re-assembled
and restored into the Lakewood Theater. Since then it has been used regularly
in a variety of situations. Silent movies, of course, but short subjects
as well, musical concerts, and accompaniment of a wide variety of presentations.
While patrons see the console that rises up from in front of the screen,
the sounds come out of the pipes and specialized music-makers behind the
stage . Over 650 pipes ranging in length from less than an inch to over
16 feet are augmented by a complete range of percussion instruments including
whistles, chimes, bells, and drums to produce that unmistakeable theater
Additional information on the fascinating history of theater organs can be found at the American Theater Organ Society website or that of it's North Texas Chapter. For information on getting involved with the Lakewood's Robert Morton Organ, contact the theater.
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