RTOS Story – RTOS Expands its Resources
The years have generally been kind to RTOS. Once the organ from the RKO Palace was securely reinstalled in its new home and our highly successful yearly series of concerts was well established our work crews were ready for a new challenge. In the early 1970s several RTOS members purchased Wurlitzer Opus 1492, a 3-manual 8-rank ‘special’ that was originally installed in 1926 in the Capitol Theatre, Worcester, MA. It was brought to Rochester for an intended commercial installation that never materialized. Consequently the organ languishing in storage for several years as the owners sought out a new home for it.
Located in Rochester’s prestigious East Avenue Preservation District, the Rochester Museum and Science Center (RMSC) was expanding its campus in the early 1970s to incorporate portions of a recently acquired former private girl’s school adjacent to the museum property. Included was the former gymnasium/auditorium which was to be remodeled into a 400 seat multi-purpose auditorium and exhibition facility.
RTOS member Don Hall, who had moved to Rochester to become the first Director of the RMSCs state-of-the-art Strasenburgh Planetarium in 1968 realized that the new Eisenhart Auditorium would be an ideal home for this instrument. Don approached the RMSC and RTOS with his idea. All parties agreed and RTOS bought the instrument from the investors, fully refurbished it then installed it in the building. Don acted as liaison, aiding the architects in the design of the new chamber spaces. The organ debuted in a series of concerts held during Columbus Day weekend of 1978 with Don Scott once again doing the honors.
As had been the case with the Palace organ, the Eisenhart instrument was ‘sold’ for $1 to the RMSC and a long-term lease/use agreement was put in place. Now increased to 12 ranks plus piano, the pipework was reregulated in the mid 1990s by Clark Wilson and Brant Duddy to make the most of the room’s acoustics. The resulting sound is that of a nicely voiced mid-sized studio instrument. We often begin programs there by welcoming the audience to the “RTOS Living Room”. The organ is used on a regular basis for open console sessions (free and open to all RTOS members), silent film festivals and other community and social events. For two seasons in the late 1990s, all RTOS concerts were held at the Eisenhart while the console of the 4/23 was being refurbished.
Over the years ownership of the Masonic complex and the Auditorium Theatre has changed twice and it is currently Rochester’s home for touring Broadway shows and other touring productions under the auspices of the current owners, the Rochester Broadway Theatre League’s West Herr Performing Arts Center. RTOS regained title to the organ when the Masons left and currently maintains it in the building under an agreement with the current owners. The facility has made and continue to make many improvements to the theatre and maintains it in first class condition. RTOS enjoys an excellent relationship with our landlords who continue to enthusiastically support our efforts and make it possible for our concert series to continue.
Throughout its history, RTOS has worked diligently to protect and maintain our two instruments. We have faced numerous challenges at the Auditorium due to water incursions (twice) and building alterations necessary to accommodate the Broadway shows. In every instance we have cleared these hurdles with flying colors.