Jan 6, 2010

All about the original organ at Maple Leaf Gardens

Had a good chat this morning with a Carleton University grad student who's working on a paper exploring the history of organ music in sports. As far as I know, the Chicago Blackhawks were the first stadium to install an organ. It was the Barton Organ, a massive music machine that intimidated the visiting team, according to legend.

It's hard to find any history about other organs, but I did come across this today -- some info about the first organ at Maple Leaf Gardens, which apparantly still exists inside the Casa Loma in Toronto. Here's a bit of the story:
In 1956, the fatal news was announced that Shea's Hippodrome would be shuttered and the property demolished to make way for the new civic center. Almost too late the organ was purchased by the Maple Leaf Gardens from the wrecking company for $2,000. The roof of the theatre had already been removed! A month was allowed for removal of the instrument.

Credit for the purchase of the organ by the Maple Leaf Gardens management goes to two persons. Dr. Bruce Tovee, ATOS member, and personal physician to Gardens president, Major Conn Smythe, talked the major into buying it. The major, with a feeling of tradition and history, was convinced that the organ would serve a useful purpose in providing background music at hockey games, church rallies etc. The console, pipes, new bandstand and an executive clubhouse all fitted into a neat structure at the sound end of the Gardens under a huge new portrait of Queen Elizabeth.

During re-installation, the organ was considerably enlarged. A new 5-manual console was built, and two of the manuals were obtained from the right pit console of the New York Paramount. The action was completely re-leathered, and new relays installed. Three additional ranks were purchased from the Strand Theatre in Brooklyn, and California theatre organ enthusiast, Dick Simonton contributed an English Post Horn. A new blower was installed, and a high-pressure fanfare Trumpet was planned for but never installed. The piano was not included in the new specifications, either, but most of the toy counter and percussions were. Retained also were the Brass Trumpet. Brass Saxophone and a solo Tibia Clausa on 25inch wind pressure. The action was changed from pneumatic to partial electric operation.

About a year was required to properly install the organ. Doug Morris designed the new addition to the building. Sound engineer was Bob Wood. Much of the organ installation was handled by Ed Gress from Boston and Stewart Duncan, a local expert. Total cost of the project was approximately $100,000.

The first program on the newly installed instrument was on December 20, 1958, when Don "Knuckles" Gordon played seasonal music for Young Canada Night, between periods of a hockey game which was broadcast coast-to-coast on the CBC. Horace Lapp became organist shortly after.

The organ's tenure in Maple Leaf Gardens was a short one, indeed. In 1963 the Gardens were remodeled to add 1800 seats, the Wurlitzer becoming superfluous. What followed was a memorable battle among elements of organ lovers to keep the organ intact and in the area until a place could be found for its third installation.

When the smoke of battle had cleared, the Toronto Theatre Organ Society, with help from affluent members, purchased the organ for $3850. The instrument was removed from the Gardens in 1964, and stored in the imperial Theatre. The Imperial's manager, Bert Brown, was an ATOS member, so this helped the situation immeasurably. The organ languished for six years until the society found a home for it.

Early in 1970, the Kiwanis Club of West Toronto offered the Wurlitzer a home in Casa Loma, thereby replacing the organ which had been sold in the 1924 auction. In June 1970, the organ' s components were moved from the Imperial to the Casa Loma and housed in what was the indoor swimming pool. Installation was begun immediately by members of the Toronto Theatre Organ Society.

Read the entire article...

1 comment:

Michael Ethen said...

Great article--thanks for the link! You're right about there not being too much available on this topic. Like your interlocutor, I'm also a grad student interested in the history of organs in sports. Could you please try to put him or her in contact with me (I'm at michael.ethen@mail.mcgill.ca)? Thanks,
- Michael