The Central Coast Philharmonia

Wonder Morton - Arlington Pipe Organ

The Great Theatre Pipe Organ of the Arlington is a 1928 Robert-Morton "Wonder Morton". Although Robert-Morton of Van Nuys, CA, made over 6000 organs before they went out of business in 1931, only 5 Wonder Mortons were made. The Great Theatre Pipe Organ of the Arlington was originally installed in Loews Jersey City and was 24 ranks. It was damaged while being removed by wreckers in 1977, stored for 10 years in a Dallas Texas warehouse, brought to Santa Barbara in 1986, and was lovingly restored to as-new condition by the Santa Barbara Theatre Organ Society (SBTOS). To accomplish this transformation, SBTOS volunteers labored over 37000 hours guided by master organ builders Stephen Leslie and Roger Inkpen of Newton Pipe Organ Services. Our first concert was 1 October 1988 featuring Tom Hazleton who did a magnificent job with the 18 ranks then up and running.

The organ now has 27 ranks (about 2000 pipes) with each rank producing a different type of orchestral sound (clarinet, trumpet, violin, saxophone, tuba, flute, etc.). There are also seven tuned percussions (marimba, glockenspiel, xylophone, chrysoglott, vibraphone, piano, and chimes) as well as drums, bells, horns, horse hoofs, surf, wind, wood block and other special effect sounds. The chest and wiring for the 28th rank (a quintadena) are in place but we haven't located suitable pipes yet.

Some Technical info: The Great Theatre Pipe Organ of the Arlington is a marvelous machine constructed of wood, leather and metal. It was built in 1928 and has thousands of moving parts (about 7000). Sound is made with combinations of organ pipes and regular band instruments, all operated by "wind" supplied from a four stage wind turbine driven by a 25 horsepower electric motor located at the front of the theatre (closest to State Street). The main wind line is a sheet metal pipe that is 22 inches in diameter and 435 feet long that runs above the theatre's ceiling.

Steven Ball says it best: "Like an orchestra, the theare pipe organ is a remarkable palate of sound. Unlike its orchestral counterpart, however, it is at the instant disposal and complete will of a single performer - an inextricable, and even exotic marriage of technology, music, theatre, and art. It is the presentation of a single individual as conductor, arranger, accompanist, soloist, and magician - an entity capable of almost supernatural powers of appearance and disappearance as well as the ability to exercise absolute control over the most powerful and universal human language: Music. Therein lies the magic of this great art."

The Arlington's "Wonder-Morton" organ offers this remarkable musical palate through its 27 ranks of wind-blown pipes and many percussion instruments. Although the various ranks have orchestral equivalents, an important distinction should be made.

An orchestral flute is a small hand-held instrument, capable of playing a single-line melody. Two-part harmony requires the services of two flutes and two flutists higher pitched notes require a piccolo or fife. That's what made orchestras too expensive for most silent movie houses. A single Theatre pipe organist can emulate the sounds of a full orchestra.

The flute rank in the Arlington organ has 85 individual pipes spanning 7 octaves. Each pipe plays a single note. The largest pipe is over eight feet long and a foot square. The smallest is the size of a pencil eraser. An organist can play the pipes in any sequence to form a melody, or combine any number of notes into complicated chords and harmonies spanning a full seven octaves. The organist's skill combines sounds from different ranks into ensembles.

Organ chambers, located behind the balconies on both sides of the theatre, are jam-packed with 2000 pipes and dozens of sound effects; all remotely-controlled electrically by the person who sits center-stage at the organ console. The pipes speak directly into the theatre, through the sonically transparent walls of the chambers. The organ volume is controlled by 44 'swell shades' which can selectively seal off the organ chamber sound from the theatre by opening or closing one at a time in response to organists operation of the swell pedal on the organ.

The Great Theatre Pipe Organ of the Arlington is what's called an "electro-pneumatic organ." The pipes and other instruments are all pneumatically operated (air operated) via electrically controlled air valves. All communication between the center-stage console and chambers is electrical. No sound is generated in the console; it contains electrical contacts under each key and stop tab. The stop tabs are the colored tablets above and around the keyboards. The stop tabs allow the organist to select which pipe ranks will play on which keyboard at what pitch. There are 420 stop tabs and they can all be automatically changed to preprogrammed selections under the organist's control via the "pistons", the small white buttons on the face of the keyboards. If all the wire in all the cables that interconnect the various organ parts were stretched out as a single wire, it would be over 780 miles long. There are over 18000 electrical connections in the organ. For more info on this organ, check out the Santa Barbara Theatre Organ Society's website:

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