RTOS Story – Looking for a New Home

​A diligent search was quickly underway to find a suitable new home.  Numerous sites were scouted to no avail.  Then, local organist David Cordy, who played the numerous pipe organs located in the huge Masonic owned Temple Civic Center located on East Main Street approached RTOS with an idea. The building, built in 1929 included the 2564-seat art deco Auditorium Theatre which housed a seldom-used 1929 E.M. Skinner concert organ.  Dave suggested, and the Masons accepted a proposal by RTOS whereby the Skinner would be replaced by the Wurlitzer and under a long-term lease agreement RTOS would transfer legal title of the instrument to the Masons and in return maintain it for use for concerts produced by the Society along with Masonic and other public events.

Rochester’s Auditorium Theatre

During August of 1965 RTOS volunteers carefully removed the Wurlitzer to temporary warehouse space donated by Bausch & Lomb.  The organ was no sooner gone than the wrecking balls and the bulldozers arrived and by the end of 1965 the RKO Palace was reduced to a parking lot.  The ‘twin towers’ project fizzled and the site remained a parking lot until 2012.  The E. M. Skinner organ was professionally removed and sold to a local Church where it was reinstalled and remains in regular use to this day.

The Auditorium’s chamber spaces on either side of the proscenium were cleaned, carefully measured and plans were drawn to make the extensive alterations that the Wurlitzer would require.  As soon as the chambers were constructed the task of re-erecting opus 1951 in its new home began in earnest with all work being done by RTOS volunteers.  Because the instrument was in near pristine condition and had been carefully removed and stored the installation went relatively smoothly.  Work continued throughout 1966 and was substantially completed by the end of the year.

Despite the loss of the Palace and near loss of the organ, RTOS never skipped a beat.  Fundraising  concerts and other social events were held throughout the year to keep interest alive.  Artists performed on a number of local historic instruments including the historic original installation Hope-Jones Opus 2 at the First Universalist Church along with several other local church organs and a Kimball theatre pipe organ installed in local member Jim Webster’s machine shop.  Other programs included Don Baker and Dick Smith performing on electronic instruments at the Auditorium.

By January of 1967 installation work was completed.  The organ components, pipes, percussions, chests, regulators, tremulants, relays, console and blower had been cleaned, repaired and renewed as necessary then reunited in substantially the same configuration as the original installation.  The missing Saxophone rank had been temporarily replaced by Danny Schultz using a Vox Humana rank which he rescued from the Webster Avenue Theater while the organ was still in the Palace.  Eventually that Vox Humana would be moved to a new chest increasing the rank count to 22 and a Post Horn rank occupied the Saxophone chest for the next 35 or so years, until a replacement brass Saxophone rank was obtained.

It had been a huge gamble.  The enthusiasts who flipped the switch in 1960 had come a long way.  An army of volunteers had given their time and talents to the cause.  Money was raised and spent, contracts were signed and a lot of sweat equity had been invested.  Would it work?  How would it sound in another theatre?  Would people return to hear the Wurlitzer without experiencing the lavish surroundings of the RKO Palace?