16 Jul 2015

Iconic Wurlitzer organ at risk

2:05 pm on 16 July 2015

The country's only Wurlitzer pipe organ in a working cinema may be left without a home and with nowhere to go.

Auckland's Hollywood Cinema in Avondale has been home to the historic instrument for 32 years but is due to be sold, leaving the future of the organ uncertain.

The Wurlitzer pipe organ in its current home at Avondale's Hollywood Cinema.

The Wurlitzer pipe organ in its current home at Avondale's Hollywood Cinema. Photo: RNZ/ Tiana Barns

Nearly 90 years old, the organ was built in 1926, and bought by the Wurlitzer Organ trust in 1993 amid fears that it would be sold overseas for parts.

Chairperson James Duncan said they were 'gutted' when they were told it would need to be removed by the end of September.

"They were really upset, we had tears outside at the front there.

"People were saying, 'this has brought us so much pleasure,' and we do bring a lot of pleasure to a lot of people. This is their little treat once a month."

The trust organises seven shows a year, to crowds of up to 300 people, which showcase the organ's main function of playing music during silent films.

Mr Duncan hoped the new buyer would keep the building as a theatre and the organ would be able to stay.

However he said he was preparing for the worst, which would be disassembling the instrument and putting into storage until a new home could be found.

"Every individual little piece has to be manhandled,: all the tiny little pipes at the top end of all the scale, their tiny pipes about the size of a pencil, they have to be bubble-wrapped and put in newspaper.

"The big 16-foot pipes are all right but they will take about three of them to carry us out. It's going to be a huge job - you don't think about having to take one of these out when you put one in."

Dr John Wells was the Auckland City organist for 14 years and once spent 10 years rebuilding the organ in the town hall.

He said packing away the organ would put its future in doubt.

"Organs that are dismantled and put into storage have a very checkered future.

"Putting it into storage is hard enough, you have to find quite a large volume, it has to be warm and dry and that's going to cost money.

"And then you can only reassemble it if you have a place that's comparable to the space the organ came out of and that's a big if."

Dr Wells said the cinema and the organ needed to stay together as a package.

"The Wurlitzer organ itself doesn't need saving and it doesn't need restoring, it's a fine instrument. That's why I stress it's a package, the organ doesn't mean much without a cinema to go with it."

An account has been set up for donations towards the removal and safe storage of the Wurlitzer.

The final show at the Hollywood Cinema is on August 30, where an organist will perform a special Farewell show.