RTOS Story – RTOS is Born and Disaster Strikes!

Summarized below with illustrations, is how the RKO Palace Wurlitzer was presented during the early 1960s.

​Emboldened by the enthusiastic response of the attendees to the ninth annual American Theatre Organ Society Convention to hear Reginald Foort’s electrifying performance at the Palace in 1964, a number of the people responsible for restoring the organ and promoting the informal concerts determined to start a local organization which would present monthly concerts and educational programs. 

During the summer of 1963-1964, the RKO Palace hosted a number of visiting organists including a visit from Philadelphia by Leonard MacClain.

L to R: Stu Moffit, Danny Schultz, Oline Schultz, Edwin Boise, Leo Kesselring, Jess Littefield (seated)

Without further delay a plan was put into motion, documents were prepared and on August 6, 1964, the Rochester Theater Organ Society was founded.  Enthusiasm was high and the founders wasted no time setting up administrative offices and committees and turning their dream into a fully functioning organization.  On September 19, 1964 the first formal concert was presented as local organist Don Scott, protégé of Tom Grierson, became the first official RTOS artist to ride the console into the spotlight before an audience of 400 delighted listeners.  Thus began Season One of RTOS concerts, a tradition which is unbroken 50 years later and reigns as the longest-running and arguably the world’s most successful uninterrupted theatre organ series.

Interest, attendance and membership rolls grew rapidly as local organists Dean Robinson and Alan Ross completed the 1964 schedule in October and December.  The team took a break in January of 1965 but concerts resumed on February 27th with Harvey Elsaesser doing the honors followed by regional artists Alan Mills in March and Don Kinnier in April.  By now the future of RTOS appeared to be secure and spirits were soaring in anticipation of the planned May 23rd appearance by famed Radio City Music Hall organist Ashley Miller.  What could possibly go wrong?

On the evening of March 2, 1965, Society members were shocked to read the Times Union’s front-page headline: “Palace Will Give Way to Two 18-Story Towers.”  The Palace Wurlitzer, the very core of the Society’s existence was being threatened.  ​