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Wurlitzer Restoration Continues 18 August 2006

Len Rawle performed on Hollywoods largest WurlitzerThe Department of Tourism and Leisure has been working with internationally- renowned organist and Wurlitzer expert Len Rawle to ensure that the Wurlitzer Organ is fully restored to its previous glory in time for installation into the redeveloped Villa Marina Arcade in 2008.

Len Rawle, who has extensive experience in refurbishing Wurlitzer organs, is visiting the Island this week to return the restored console of the organ for storage. Len will then be continuing the intricate and lengthy task of refurbishing the internal workings of the instrument.

The Wurlitzer will be sited within a 100-seat multi-function/dance/performance space in the Arcade where the organ’s fascinating workings will be on full display.

The Hon David Cretney, MHK, Minister, stated

“I would like to thank Len for his determination and expertise in continuing what is a very challenging restoration project. I am sure the public will be pleased with the reinstallation of the Wurlitzer in the refurbished Villa Marina Arcade, and I look forward to the Wurlitzer being played for concerts and dances.
Len tells me that this particular Wurlitzer is a rare example of its type - however, in its former life it went through several changes including the addition of various electronic organ devices, an electronic keyboard, and not a little physical damage. Len's brief was to restore the organ as close as possible to its original configuration and appearance and we are all delighted with Len’s work to date.”

The Minister added

“My colleague Eddie Lowey MLC, Chairman of Leisure Division, has been working hard to bring the Arcade project to fruition - as well as the installation of the Wurlitzer, the redeveloped Arcade will, whilst retaining its key period features, comprise retail space, a café/bar which will open out into the landscaped Gardens, refurbished toilets and new disabled toilets. A key feature which I held as a priority from the outset, is the creation of a link through the Arcade to the Gaiety which allows much improved access to the Theatre for those with disabilities. The replacement of the last section of the Colonnade as well as replacement of the barrelled roof also forms a major part of the works. The installation of doorways to the front and rear of the Arcade will also ensure that the building becomes much more welcoming, even in the midst of winter!
I am sure everyone will be delighted with the whole Arcade redevelopment which will be the final piece of the refurbishment of the Villa Marina and Gaiety Theatre site.”

Extra information –

Wurlitzer in Classical French Style Department’s Wurlitzer, which was built in 1929, was destined for the Marlborough Cinema Holloway. The cinema went over budget so a Compton (British organ – smaller and cheaper) was installed instead.

The Wurlitzer was diverted to the City Cinema Leicester where it stayed in use until approx 1957. Then the cinema closed and then taken over and the Wurlitzer was boarded up under the pit. A Mr Hickling then bought it - his residence was called Dormston House. He installed the Wurlitzer in his house and it became well known and was played on “The Organist Entertains” by an organist called Brian Sharp.

Wurlitzers are American but invented by a Liverpudlian called Mr Hope Jones who designed the ability to play the organ away from its pipes. He tried to sell the concept in England but couldn’t and thus went to America and sold it there.

Department Wurlitzer isn’t “voiced” for dancing – it was intended for accompanying films – and isn’t as loud or as big as the one in Blackpool. There is no Manx connection prior to its acquisition in 1989.

As well as restoring, maintaining and performing on Wurlitzers world wide, Len Rawle has his own Wurlitzer at home. Some years ago, Len having found himself the centre of attraction in the famed Sir John Betjeman documentary 'Metroland'. More recently, historian Dan Cruikshank has completed his contribution to Sir John's 100th anniversary celebrations. The result is a BBC TV programme 'Betjemen and Me - Dan Cruikshank'. Not surprisingly perhaps it features visits to those who knew the great poet or who he enjoyed visiting. It just so happens that Len is once again visited at home and is scheduled to be on our screen on BBC2 on 28th August. The original Metroland film has been broadcast numerous times and is even released this month as a DVD representing Sir John's finest work.

Top - Much travelled Len Rawle last year performed at a American Convention on Hollywood's largest Wurlitzer
Bottom - The classical French styling is evident in the Wurlitzer being 'rolled out' here in preparation for its return to the IoM

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