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Future of the Wurlitzer 18 September 2003

The Department of Tourism and Leisure has been working with internationally-renowned organist and Wurlitzer expert Len Rawle to ensure that the Wurlitzer, installed in Summerland in 1990, can be dismantled prior to the closure of the facility at the end of 2003.

Len Rawle, who has extensive experience in refurbishing Wurlitzer organs, will be visiting the Island in October to carefully dismantle the organ. Refurbishment will start with the organ's console which, when refurbished, will be stored in the Manx National Heritage facility at Balthane. The extensive workings of the organ will be gradually restored to their former glory and stored at Balthane with the console, ready for reinstallation.

The Department - in line with its policy for the organ since 2001 - has been working on the initial design for the Villa Marina Arcade project, and plans to install the fully refurbished Wurlitzer in the Arcade, with the fascinating workings on full display. It is envisaged that an enclosed performance space, to seat at least 100 persons will be incorporated in the design, to enable the public to receive recitals and for performers and enthusiasts to use the organ. The Villa Marina Arcade refurbishment project is scheduled to commence in 2007 but the Department is working hard to bring forward the project - particularly as the Arcade site lies between the historic Gaiety Theatre and the newly refurbished Villa Marina, due to open in Spring 2004.

The Hon David Cretney, MHK, Minister, stated:

"I would like to emphasise that the Wurlitzer is safe with the Department and I am pleased to have been able to secure the services of Len Rawle to assist with our plans. I am sure the public will be very content with the reinstallation of the Wurlitzer into the refurbished Villa Marina Arcade.

I must say that I have been disappointed with some of the comments put forward from various quarters in respect of my Department's commitment to the Wurlitzer. The Department carried out a consultation exercise in respect of the Villa Marina Refurbishment project in June 2000 and there was no public comment regarding the Wurlitzer at this stage.

The Department continued to develop the Villa Marina project and did investigate the possibility of installing the Wurlitzer into the Royal Hall - and carefully considered options put forward by interested parties. However, for a number of reasons, including loss of functionality of the Royal Hall, compromise of disabled access, and non-compliance with Building Regulations, it was not possible to accommodate the Wurlitzer into the Royal Hall plans without very significant cost and timescale implications for the project."

The Minister added:

"I would ask that we focus on the future and concentrate on preserving and restoring the Wurlitzer - and I look forward to hearing the first recital! In the meantime when our plans reach detailed design stage we intend to make them available for examination by the public."

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.

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