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The Mighty Wurlitzer

A major attraction of the Poli Palace Theater was the theatre's pipe organ. Originally conceived to accompany silent motion pictures, this versatile instrument could replicate all the sounds of a full symphony orchestra. Under the control of a gifted organist, the ornate console would arise majestically from the orchestra pit to signal the start of the presentation with an awe-inspiring overture.

In the tradition of the glorious theaters of the past, the Hanover Center will feature a fully restored Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ. This instrument will be the largest of its kind in New England. It will be comprised of some 2500 pipes, a full complement of tuned percussion instruments, and a large assortment of drums and cymbals.

This instrument will be used when appropriate to provide overture and intermission music as well as being an attraction in and of itself for concerts and other musical productions.

The Wurlitzer’s History

This instrument started as a dream of and later became a labor of love for Don Phipps of New Bedford, Massachusetts.

After the advent of  talking pictures, theatre organs fell into disuse. Later, the popularity of television forced many theaters to close and subsequently be lost to the wrecker’s ball. In the late 1940’s and 1950’s many unwanted theatre organs ended up “going to church”. Often poorly installed, with minimal repair and restoration, these instruments many times proved unsatisfactory due to reliability problems.

Eventually, they were replaced either with electronic instruments or new pipe organs of a more classical design, better suited to the worship service. Don was fortunate to acquire a number of these instruments and eventually assembled a large collection of Wurlitzer parts.

Retirement in 1990 provided Don with the time to restore and assemble an instrument from these parts. By 1992, a twelve rank instrument, playable from a temporary church-style console, was installed in Don’s shop.

Thoroughly engrossed in the project, Don decided to “go for broke” with the purchase of a computerized organ control system and the procurement of the largest standard four manual (keyboard) Wurlitzer style console case. Trivo, Inc. also supplied four ranks of Wurlitzer style reed pipes and a Trompette-en-Chamade.

For its new home in the Hanover Center for the Performing Arts, the instrument will be reconfigured to a four manual thirty five rank instrument housed in two chambers - one on each side of the auditorium.

The installation of the Mighty Wurlitzer in the Hanover Center is the culmination of Don’s dream to see this magnificent instrument installed in a public venue to be enjoyed by many in the years to come. As the Hanover Center for the Performing Arts continues to take shape, this dream is becoming a reality.

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