When Portland’s Hollywood Theatre opened in 1926, music for silent films was supplied by a large, complex acoustical instrument played by one person, called a theatre pipe organ. The sound-producing parts of the instrument were hidden in chambers on both sides of the stage, leaving only the console and the musician visible to the audience. Most of a theatre pipe organ uses the same basic technology as classical organs, but the sound is quite different and more orchestral, leading to the term “Unit Orchestra”. In addition to musical sounds (including percussions), sound effects were included to make the movie experience more realistic. The Wurlitzer instrument in the Hollywood fell into disuse after the introduction of talking pictures, and was moved to a skating rink in 1955.
Our nonprofit group is bringing those long lost sounds back to the chambers, to burst forth into the main auditorium with grand and glorious melodies sounding even better than those of 1926. A generous gift has gotten the project off to a running start. The Beverly Ruth Nelson Memorial Organ is now playing, and growing.
Yes… a real, honest to goodness, grand and eloquent theatre style pipe organ is playing and growing in those hallowed chambers. The visible part of the instrument, the console, can be seen at seating level. Ranks of real pipes (each one an single-note acoustical instrument) play in the original Main pipe chamber (second foor, audience left behind a curtain) and behind the screen; work will begin soon on rebuilding the Solo (second floor, audience right) chamber. Pipes, powered by a 15-horsepower blower in the basement, are supplemented by sampled sounds to complete the unit orchestra. We have the only operational theatre organ installation in a Portland movie theatre!
We are dedicated to giving back to the City of Portland and its citizens some of those glorious sounds of yester-year. It is happening now, and you can be a part of it!!
Building pipe organs is a labor-intensive and expensive process… you can help. There are many tasks that don’t require specialized skills, done under the guidance of members with years of experience. That could begin with your joining our Society using the membership form. Also, all monetary donations are gratefully accepted, and the Columbia River Theatre Organ Society is a 501(C)3 tax-exempt organization.
Columbia River Theatre Organ Society is a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to the preservation of the theatre organ and its music.
About The Hollywood Theatre
Opened on July 17, 1926, the Hollywood theatre has continuously remained a beloved Portland landmark and community treasure – even inspiring the name of the surrounding Hollywood District. With over 1500 seats, the theatre was one of the most ornate neighborhood theatres in the Pacific Northwest, readily identified by its unique Byzantine rococo tower. The art deco interior, with its false balconies and balustrades remains today, and are currently being restored under the enthusiastic supervision of Film Action Oregon.
A highlight of the theatre when first opened was its $40,000 Wurlitzer pipe organ, used to accompany the movies and to augment the vaudeville acts. In 1955, the 3/10 style H Wurlitzer was moved to the Imperial skating rink in Portland, Oregon. The original pipe chambers still exist and CRTOS is in the process of refurbishing and installing a new Wurlitzer pipe organ in those chambers.
The Hollywood Theatre is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to entertain, inspire, educate and connect the community through the art of film while preserving a historic Portland landmark.
Click here to visit the Hollywood Theatre’s website.