10 facts about State Theatre’s $1M Wurlitzer organ restoration

The State Theatre embodies the features of a number of great theatres including the opulence of the Paramount on Times Square, the majesty of the San Francisco Fox and the richness of the New York Roxy and has been operating more or less continuously since 1929, through the Depression and World War II.  In its original configuration the State seated 2,584.  Today it seats 2,034 people.  It features 13 hand-cut chandeliers, including the world’s second largest hand-cut chandelier, the Kohi-i-Nor reported to have costed three thousand pounds and was imported from Czechoslovakia.  It is 25 feet high and 16 feet in diameter and weighs four tonne.

State Theatre has hosted silent and full feature films, theatre productions, musicals and performances spanning the likes of Shirley Bassey, Bette Midler, Lou Reed and Chris Isaac to Hi-5, the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar and Tap Dogs to film premiers lie X-Men, Bridget Jones and annually the Sydney Film Festival.

2019 marks 90 years for Sydney’s iconic State Theatre, one of Australia’s last great movie palaces. To mark the occasion, the State Theatre unveiled the building’s Wurlitzer organ, following a decade-long restoration. The restoration brings the organ, which has not been played with full purity of sound for 65 years, back to life for future generations.

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  • The company that produced this instrument in 1928 is the Rudolph Wurlitzer Manufacturing Company. They were located in North Tonawanda New York. Between 1910 and 1943 the Rudolph Wurlitzer manufacturing company produced 2,243 pipe organs.
  • Of the 2,243 produced, today many have been lost or altered beyond recognition though modifications or amalgamations.
  • There are only 12 Wurlitzer organs left in the world that remain as originally created, including the Wurlitzer housed at the State Theatre.
  • The purpose of the organs was originally as the voice of silent film, creating sounds like a fire gong, a steamboat whistle, train whistle, ocean surf, horse’s hooves, acme siren and a bird whistle.
  • The State Theatre’s Wurlitzer is the largest pipe organ the Rudolf Wurlitzer Manufacturing Company exported, featuring 1,497 pipes ranging from gigantic 32 inch Diaphones to a 2 inch Piccolo (which is the size of a pencil) as well as 259 tuned percussion notes and 22 trap and silent film effects.
  • The sounds of the organ are controlled by 7,016 valves, 5,430 pneumatic motors and 2,968 electromagnets.
  • In total the organ is made up of tens of thousands of components, which are uniquely situated throughout the building; the largest pipes are located under the floor of the stalls while two organ chambers are located high above the proscenium arch over the stage.
  • The organ also features extensive percussion elements including a Glockenspiel, Marimba, Xylophone, Cathedral Chimes, Chrysoglott/Vibraharp and a set of tuned sleigh bells.
  • In 1957 the Wurlitzer organ at the State Theatre was played for the final time by Mannie Aarons before falling into dis-use.
  • The organ has crossed the pacific three times; being shipped and installed in 1929 and then back again for the restoration.

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