Original Location: Salida, Colorado
Laura Evens, of Salida, Colorado, bought the Wurlitzer 30A PianOrchestra, #3750, on 1/4/14, from The Knight-Campbell Music Company, 1625-1631 California Street, Denver, Colorado. She paid $3,150.00 for it, a very pricey sum at the time. Laura Evens was well known throughout the Colorado frontier mining towns as being a feisty, notoriously outspoken woman, as well as being a fun-loving prankster, who was often as foul-mouthed as she was generous. As a madam, she operated a "first class parlor," one that catered to a wide range of "gentlemen" clients, which reportedly including influential townspeople and politicians alike.
There has been some debate over the correct spelling of Laura Evens' name. Is it Evens, or is it Evans, a common way of spelling it? On surviving Knight-Campbell Music Company receipts the spelling is consistently Evans. However, her attorney, Fred M. Mazzulla, of Denver, Colorado, when contacted in the early 1970s insisted that her surname was correctly spelled Evens. As such, it will be presumed that her attorney, who knew Laura Evens personally and professionally, spelled her name as she so wanted. Thus, for this historical accounting her purported surname will be spelled Evens.
Where the person later known as Laura Evens was born is unknown, although she admitted to having a "Southern" upbringing. It was probably around 1890, in St. Louis, Missouri, when she officially took up the profession of being a prostitute. At about the same time she also changed her name to Laura Evens. Circa 1893, she moved to Leadville, Colorado, and spent the next few years living a riotous lifestyle, indulging in a long series of ill-fated pranks and finally a "smuggling" incident that got her blacklisted by the Miner's Union. Her popularity in town on the wane, Laura sought out another town that offered a rich source of clientele, but men other than miners. The town of Salida, Colorado, was the perfect location for her, whereupon, circa 1898, Laura was back on "the line," satisfying the local gentry. Then, about 1900, Laura's ambitions evolved into owning her own parlor house, whence she became a full-time "madam." Her new establishment was located on Front Street, in Salida, not far from the bustling railroad center for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, a complex of buildings that included a depot, shops, a large roundhouse and extensive maintenance facilities. Thus, the area offered a plentiful and diverse source of male clientele.
As her business prospered, a building across the street, consisting of a row of "cribs," was purchased in 1906. Business continued to prosper, and in January of 1914 Laura purchased a large and impressive Wurlitzer style 30A Mandolin PianOrchestra, which was situated in her main parlor room. The orchestrion provided a source of musical entertainment, and Laura is reported to have insisted on only the most lively of tunes, to hasten the "turnover" of business patrons. How many times the huge PianOrchestra was serviced while at Laura's place is unknown, but it was extensively repaired at least once, in March of 1924. The repairman, traveling from Denver, stayed at a conveniently situated hotel in Salida, The Palace Hotel, across the street and in the same block. For train fare, room and board, materials, and a total of twelve days of labor, Miss Laura was charged a total of $234.68. This bill and a copy of the original Knight-Campbell Music Company 1914 sales invoice can be viewed by clicking on the invoice thumbnail at right.
Her "business office" was a large bedroom on the ground floor, opposite the large front parlor room, where she greeted guests and patrons. Laura was a slim woman, with large and expressive eyes. She enjoyed rolling her own cigarettes and telling stories about herself and others, some that were probably true, others malicious, and many of them of questionable authenticity. Laura's parlor was finally closed down in 1950 by edict of Salida's town council. After that, Laura rented out rooms to local railroad men, whom she enjoyed as card playing companions right up to the end. Cemetery records show her birth date to have been May 31st, 1874, and her death date as April 4th, 1953. If the birth date is correct Laura Evens would have been 79 years old when she passed away.
Until recently it was thought that Orval Cooper, of Long Beach, California, later on to be a charter member of the Musical Box Society, was the person who, circa 1931, discovered the Wurlitzer PianOrchestra in Laura's place of business. I remember asking Orval how he had come to find the PianOrchestra in Laura's Parlor, which was located just down the street from the Salida train station. Orval was sitting at a small table in his kitchen, chatting with Gene Ballard, who was sitting directly across the table from him. Flossy, Orval's wife, was seated next to him. This was during a Music Box Society meeting at Orval's house on Gundry Avenue in Long Beach, California, during the late 1960s. Several other Musical Box Society members were milling about in the room. In response to my question, Orval glanced up and looked at me. He slowly lowered his cigar and smiled. Nothing was said, no sound whatsoever was uttered. Then, he looked away and continued the conversation with his friend, Gene Ballard.
Nonetheless, during Orval's circa 1931 travels throughout the rugged Colorado mountain country he apparently did visit two large PianOrchestras; the Wurlitzer style 30A Mandolin PianOrchestra in Salida, and the Wurlitzer style 32A Concert PianOrchestra belonging to Johnny Bernat, located in the Crystal Palace Saloon in Leadville, Colorado. According to Orval, the PianOrchestra had quit playing some years earlier, which probably means during the late twenties. He said that Laura had made inquiry about having the machine repaired, which may have been to the Knight-Campbell Music Company in Denver, where she had originally purchased the Wurlitzer. In any case, she was reportedly told by whomever she contacted that the machine was obsolete and that no music or repair service was any longer available.
The instrument was in pristine condition, with a very large collection of music rolls; and it was mechanically complete, except for the easily removed bass and snare drums, which Laura apparently had given to some local boy scouts after the big machine was no longer considered functional. I often wondered who the lucky boy scouts were, and how Laura had come to make their acquaintance.
Curiously, even though Orval was in the business of making money with coin pianos, he considered the PianOrchestra much too "large and unmanageable" to keep, or so he said, which is why he sold it to the owner of the Playland arcade, located in the fun-zone on the Newport Beach Peninsula, Newport Beach, California. I believe Orval said the sale to Playland took place in 1932.
But there is a curious new twist to the above story in that Clara May Raney, the oldest daughter of the late A.C. Raney, mentioned to me during an interview with her in January, 2003, that the Wurlitzer 30A PianOrchestra was on loan to Playland, and that it had been the property of A.C. Raney. Since I later purchased the PianOrchestra from Playland, I naturally asked when the PianOrchestra was sold to Playland. Clara May did not know, but thought it may have been sold about 1953, when her mother, Ruby Raney, decided to sell off the collection, because she was not able to carry on dealing with the heavy music machines due to health reasons. So, who did find and buy the 30A PianOrchestra? Was it A.C. Raney or Orval Cooper? Both men are known to have traveled throughout Colorado, but A.C. Raney is known to have done so both frequently and extensively while developing new business connections and customers for his "Buyers Service" operation (established in 1920) in downtown Los Angeles, California.
The details of the sale to Playland are unknown, and no one alive today can say with certainty whether the PianOrchestra was purchased from A.C. Raney, Whittier, California, or from Orval Cooper, Long Beach, California. If Orval Cooper owned the PianOrchestra the sale was probably circa 1932, but if A.C. Raney owned the instrument the sale may have occurred circa 1953, in the latter case the big machine being on loan to Playland for many years. But whatever happened, the title to the PianOrchestra included the entire collection of music rolls, and it all ended up in the hands of Playland's owner. Playland, located on the Newport Beach Peninsula, was one of three gaming arcades in the Newport Beach Fun Zone. All three arcades, located within shouting distance of each other, were on the bay side of the peninsula, facing the beach. Between the beach and the row of mixed arcades and shops was a small amusement ride area, featuring a small merry-go-round, Ferris wheel and the like.
I first encountered the Wurlitzer style 30A PianOrchestra in the mid 1940s. It was during an annual summer excursion to visit old family friends, who had a large beachfront house on Balboa Island, situated just across the bay from the Newport Peninsula. We would spend the day, and often two or three days, playing on the sandy beach. One fine day we took the ferry over to the "mainland" to explore. The ferry docked close to the amusement area. In addition to various outdoor amusement rides, which is what had primarily attracted my attention, there was an assortment of shops and gaming arcades. Each arcade was packed with pinball machines, claw machines and all manner of other nickel-grabbing devices. Of the three arcades, each located within several doors from the other, Playland was the first one I entered. I was immediately attracted to the huge Wurlitzer PianOrchestra, which stood majestically just inside the wide front opening. A large cardboard sign tacked to the front proclaimed it as the "Granddaddy of all Jukeboxes." After seeing it and falling in love with its compelling mechanical music and intriguing mechanisms, nothing else in the "fun zone" held much relative fascination for me. Thereafter, during the family visits to Balboa Island, or to my Great Aunt Emma's house, located on the Peninsula, only a moderate walking distance from Playland, I would always manage to visit the alluring PianOrchestra and feed it dimes.
As a side note, there were two other orchestrions on location in the Newport Beach fun-zone during the years I made it a point to visit the 30A PianOrchestra, from the mid 1940s up to at least 1954. There were three arcades, each jammed full of pinball machines, claw machines and other arcade novelties. Playland was one of them, with the 30A PianOrchestra. In one of the other arcades there was a Nelson-Wiggen style 6, and a Seeburg H, with clear glass panes in place of the original art glass. The Nelson-Wiggen played well, and was delightfully crisp sounding. I enjoyed it, but not as much as the Wurlitzer 30A located only a few doors away. The Seeburg H was relatively sluggish and did not play so well, and therefore was not of much interest. Although it was impressive to see, I rarely fed it any coins.
Events leading up to my purchase of the Playland 30A PianOrchestra were of themselves a soap-opera story. The machine needed a complete overhaul, from top to bottom. The instrument did not play but a few feeble notes, the pipes barely wheezing and the drum actions barely able to strike the drums anymore. The piano action had all but fallen apart, the few hammers still moving rarely striking the correct piano strings, or any strings at all. A man by the name of Richard Sandoval owned the Playland arcade. Many years earlier, during a visit to the PianOrchestra I had tried to talk with him about the PianOrchestra, but he just stood, with his arms crossed, glaring at me, barley uttering a sound. I never approached him again. Sandoval was a tough and very streetwise seeming man, and rather difficult to deal with at best. He did not mince his words, telling you straight out that he disliked you, if so inclined.
Fortunately, for me, Bill Allen, a Santa Ana, California, collector, eagerly wanted to get his hands on the Playland music roll hoard. Bill already owned a beautiful style 12 PianOrchestra, which he had bought from Dave Bowers, so the 30A PianOrchestra itself was not of interest. When Bill told me he was going after the music, casually asking me if I would be interested in the PianOrchestra if anything should ever came of his efforts, I said, yes, thinking he might just have some luck dealing with Richard Sandoval. Bill Allen, to his credit, perhaps due to he being a successful stockbroker, amongst other things, was seemingly unfazed by a belligerent and unyielding attitude. No one was apparently too tough or unsettling to tackle, no matter how seemingly obdurate that person was. Thus, somehow Bill Allen managed to hang around Richard Sandoval long enough to convince him that he needed to get some quotes on fixing up the 30A PianOrchestra, since it hardly made a sound anymore.
Bill Allen excitedly called me one morning in 1971, telling me to go to Playland and give Richard Sandoval a quote on restoring the 30A. Bill was quite up-front about telling me what kind of price quote he wanted me to give. The restoration quote was to be highly inflated, high enough to coerce Sandoval into selling Bill the 30A PianOrchestra, but not so high as to be completely unreasonable. The arrangement was to be that Bill Allen would appear to buy the PianOrchestra, but with my money. Then, Bill would get first pick of all the music as his commission in negotiating the deal, keeping up to a certain number of rolls. I would get the rest at an already set price, if I wanted them.
Dave Bowers and I drove to Playland, maybe the following morning. Sandoval was working on an arcade machine when we entered. I had made some estimates on what costs would be incurred to overhaul the PianOrchestra, knowing that it was falling apart mechanically and in need of a complete restoration. So I was prepared to give a carefully considered, although highly inflated, quote of about $8,000, one that I thought would be safe for me, in the event that I actually did have to restore the machine for Sandoval. Even though my quote was what I considered high, it was not nearly as exaggerated as Bill indicated he would like. I verbally gave Sandoval the quote, and he promptly hit the roof, loudly proclaiming that my price was too high and absolutely ridiculous. Nothing was ever written down, and there was no pacifying him.
Richard Sandoval knew of Iver Becklund, who had a piano restoration shop in Lakewood, California. Iver was a very highly respected and talented restorer. Whether Sandoval had ever actually met Iver personally, or not, is unknown to me. Perhaps he had learned of Iver Becklund through Bill Allen, but whatever the case, as Sandoval raged on, he basically pronounced Iver Becklund as the greatest restoration expert to have ever walked the earth, all the while inferring that I was not particularly knowledgeable, talented, or capable in such matters. Mr. Sandoval, looking me directly in the eyes, assured me in forceful tones that he would be contacting Iver for an honest and fair estimate, and that Iver was a man whom he knew to be trustworthy, reasonable, and a highly competent man. Dave and I left thinking that my getting the PianOrchestra was very unlikely, and that this attempt at persuasion had failed completely.
I presumed from his remarks that Sandoval would be contacting Iver Becklund soon, if not immediately. I had no idea whatsoever what Iver might charge, but I assumed that it would probably be lower than my quote, since I had intentionally jacked my price up very high in order to please Bill Allen. Disheartened, I dropped the whole matter as a lost cause. But Bill Allen, unfazed as ever, was on a quest for the PianOrchestra music rolls, something he dearly wanted. Without my knowing it, and no matter how disagreeable Sandoval became, Bill Allen kept right on pursuing him. It was not long after my botched visit to Playland that Bill Allen, along with his friend Rudy Edwards, chauffeured Iver Becklund over to the Playland Arcade one evening. The idea was to inspect the PianOrchestra and to have Iver personally deliver his quote. Whether Richard Sandoval had any part in arranging this meeting is unknown to me, but whatever the case, I had no knowledge of any further plans by Bill Allen to convince Sandoval to sell the PianOrchestra.
To my complete surprise, a few days later, Bill telephoned me. He was absolutely elated, saying that Sandoval had agreed to sell him the 30A PianOrchestra. I was dumbfounded. Bill confirmed that I would get the machine, while he would get first pick of all the music. The deal was on! Then, Bill told me that Iver's restoration quote was around $11,500, and that Sandoval was irate, sputtering obscenities, and quite fed up with the whole PianOrchestra thing. But only recently did I learn through Rudy Edwards that when Sandoval heard Iver's quote he had exploded into a furious rage, calling Iver Becklund a crook and nearly running him off the property. Through all this, Bill Allen apparently remained unruffled, talking his way through the situation, cooling it off, always with the purchase of the PianOrchestra and all its music rolls as his goal.
I was shocked at hearing the Becklund price quote; thinking how ironic it was that my "high" restoration quote had turned out to be the "reasonably" priced one after all. Looking back through calmer eyes, it appears that Richard Sandoval genuinely had an interest in keeping the PianOrchestra. However, he was quite unwilling to pay the going price of a restoration, and, as such, was now willing to sell the 30A PianOrchestra for what was then considered to be the very high price, $7750.00
Bill was eager to get his hands on my money, so as to close the deal, before anything could possibly go wrong, pushing hard to get me to immediately set up a time to both pay for and simultaneously remove the PianOrchestra from Playland. Knowing full well how things can quickly turnabout, I lost no time in calling B & C Transfer, the Whittier agent for Allied Van Lines, the shipping vendor most trusted and commonly used at Hathaway & Bowers, Inc. I arranged for a definite pickup the next morning, at 10 o'clock. Dave Bowers and I arrived early, only a few minutes after Bill Allen, the three of us meeting on the street along the back side of the Playland arcade building, perhaps 20 minutes before the appointed 10 o'clock arrival time. Bill Allen was standing alongside his car, nervously wringing his hands, as usual. We stood talking for awhile, waiting for the moving truck. All three of us were jittery, impatiently wondering if we should wait for the moving truck, or just go on in and pay for the PianOrchestra, so I could start dismantling it, getting it ready for transportation.
Our small talk quickly used up, we could not tolerate idly waiting around a moment longer. I gave Bill the money, and we walked to the front of the arcade. As we walked, Bill was issuing instructions on how to act, so that nobody would accidentally upset his deal with Mr. Sandoval. We met Sandoval toward the back of the arcade, and, as usual, he was intense, but today he seemed especially amiable. Bill handled him the wad of money and got a signed receipt. Once the transaction was complete, Richard Sandoval gave Bill Allen the keys to the PianOrchestra. Bill handed the keys to me, as he and Richard Sandoval started walking to the rear of the arcade, disappearing into a back room. I concentrated my efforts on disassembling the PianOrchestra. Soon, Bill was carrying out armloads of Wurlitzer music rolls, stashing them in his car, coveting them as though they were gold bars. He then unloaded the PianOrchestra roll-changer, too, getting in my way in the process.
The timing of B & C Transfer was perfect. I had just finished removing the front doors and side panels when the driver and his helpers walked into the arcade. The detached case parts where carried out to the truck immediately; the men returning with packing boxes and paper. Next, the violin and flute pipes were quickly removed, wrapped in paper, slid into packing boxes and hauled out. Time was of the essence, we reasoned, since the sooner we finished the job, the less time for something to go awry. Sandoval watched us constantly. Several Playland patrons who had enjoyed the orchestrion over the years stopped to ask what was happening to the machine. To keep everything going smoothly, wanting no one to be concerned about what we were doing, we said that the machine was being taken out for restoration, inferring that it would return in wonderful playing condition.
Over the years clear glass panes had replaced the oak inset panels for each of the removable case side-panels. The art glass in both of the front doors had also been replaced with clear glass and numerous pipes were missing. I presumed that I would be making art glass, wood panels and violin pipes to replace what I thought was missing. In the meantime, Bill Allen had finished carrying out the music rolls, when I noticed that he and Sandoval began carrying out "missing" case parts, art-glass and pipes from the back storage room. Sandoval had carefully saved all the "missing" parts, the pipes having been plucked from the pipe chest when they ciphered and stored safely away. I was thrilled, as one by one all the pieces I had just minutes before noted as missing were now accounted for.
It was not long before the PianOrchestra was mostly dismantled, the top section ready to be lifted off and carted out. Bill Allen, nervously standing around watching, spotted the original Wurlitzer remote coin slot-box (for nickels). It had been screwed onto the lower chassis, beneath the roll-changer assembly. It was still in use as a coin trip, but had been badly cobbled, extensively modifying it in order to accommodate an external coin chute and dimes. The carelessly fitted, makeshift coin chute extended up and out to the right front door. The dimes dropped through another crudely fitted metal chute into a catch box. A modern relay mechanism controlled the PianOrchestra motor. Bill wanted the wall-box, but I insisted that it was part of the 30A PianOrchestra itself, especially since it was still firmly bolted to the chassis, and had become an integral part of the orchestrion's electrical system. I guess Bill was happy enough with the music rolls, because he dropped the wall-box matter immediately and completely. I was surprised at this, I remember, because Bill was usually relentlessly tenacious and often verbally quite aggressive when he wanted something.
I followed the moving men out to the van as they carted out the final load, helping to finish any last minute arranging of the load for safe cartage. In less than an hour the PianOrchestra had been completely dismantled, the loose parts packed, and all of it hauled out of the arcade and tied down in the moving van. I did not wave good-bye to Richard Sandoval; Bill Allen took care of any parting words. I wanted the truck doors closed and the truck on its way. We got into our cars as the truck doors were being sealed. We did not pull away from the site until the truck engine was started and ready to go. I frequently noted the moving truck following behind us in the rear view mirror, until we had left the Newport Peninsula completely.
In the end, it seemed that everybody basically got what they wanted. Richard Sandoval got what was then considered to be a lot of money, I got the Wurlitzer style 30A PianOrchestra, and Bill Allen had his pick of the Wurlitzer PianOrchestra music. Knowing Bill, and his preferences in music, having heard many of his coin-pianos over the years, I reasoned that he would tend to pick out the music rolls least interesting to me, according to his taste, which was quite different than mine. He went for the classics, like the "Blue Danube Waltz, and other "recognizable" tunes, leaving the "unrecognizable," but generally snappy, old-time stuff for me. Thus, we both got the music rolls we wanted, although Bill always considered himself to be "the winner," often liking to give me jabs about his "first pick," better than me, status. I never said anything, and just let him have his sense of accomplishment. I had gotten what I wanted and cherished, without having to fight and deal directly with Richard Sandoval, thanks to Bill Allen.
The Wurlitzer style 30A Mandolin PianOrchestra from Salida, Colorado, would be the second such instrument I would restore, the first being the 30A PianOrchestra from Skaneateles Junction, New York. The restoration was uneventful, the standard refinishing and replacement of cloth, leather, and rubber parts being the norm. The piano action was completely rebuilt, using some materials of like kind ordered from Germany. The pipework was merely cleaned and tuned, the "frein harmonic" being adjusted on the string pipes. The bass drum was replaced with a European drum similar, if not exact, to what Philipps would have originally used. The snare drum was replaced with an American made shell and rims, with hardware of the type originally used by Wurlitzer.
The roll changer was cleaned in L & R ammoniated watch-cleaning solution, bringing back the original nickel-plated brightness for all but a few parts where the original nickel plate had badly flaked. These few parts, mainly some take-up spool parts, were lightly chemically stripped and replated using a Watts nickel process, a process leaving a thin nickel flash, without the copper or other undercoat or any brighteners. The plating company was prohibited from doing any of the customary buffing, grinding, or polishing on plated work. A light buffing using only a fine wire wheel was done by me on the finished work, in order to preserve the original dimensions and sharply machined edges, while bringing out the luster of the nickel flashing.
Tom Hozaki, Southern California's premier craftsman in rebuilding pumps, restored the pump. Reinforced Kangaroo hide was used for the covering because of its softness and exceptional durability. Only one major, but tiny series of components was to remain untouched, that being the actual valves in the main chest, which were original, having never been rebuilt. The PianOrchestra had been in almost constant use, in relatively clean air, since the machine was new, so the valve leathers had remained soft and supple. They were still clean, not gooped up with filtered out smoke residue and dirt. Thus, the superbly made original Philipps craftsmanship was still functioning perfectly, the valves being tight and perfectly adjusted. I reasoned that there was no advantage to fix what I probably could not make function any better, so I left the original valves and valve leathers intact.
The PianOrchestra was shipped to Ron Cappel for touch-up work and rebuilding of the main valve chest, which was, quite remarkably, still functioning reasonably well using the original Philipps valves. In addition to rebuilding the main chest, an expression control was added that modifies the vacuum level, causing all striking instruments to have a degree of loudness control. Although this type of control was not original to this particular instrument, such a device was an original Philipps part in many of the later built Pianella (PianOrchestra) orchestrions.
Upon completion of the final regulation and tuning, the PianOrchestra was recorded and then shipped to Wisconsin, whereupon it now stands between the larger Philipps Model 34 Luxus, and an even larger Phillips Style 12 Monstre Paganini reconstructed by Siegfried Wendel's Mechanische Musikwerke Manufaktur.
Note: The exceedingly long life of the main valves in this PianOrchestra points out an often unattained characteristic common to nearly all pneumatically operated automatic musical instruments. If and when they are played frequently beginning with their date of manufacture, and if operated in a relatively clean environment (such as in a non-cigarette smoke filled room, whereupon there is no smoke and tar to filter out and coat the valves and other systems), the leather, cloth, and rubber components often exhibit a very long and useful lifetime. But when an instrument is not used for a long period of time, such as when stored away and forgotten in some back room, these same parts tend to harden and become brittle, causing leather faced valves to leak disastrously, motor pneumatic coverings to crack and disintegrate, and feeder pumps to generally cease functioning to any useful degree.
Written by Terry Hathaway, with information provided by Terry Hathaway, Mike Ames, Brian Smith, Art Reblitz, and Q. David Bowers.
Circa 1912 Wurlitzer catalogue; Jody Kravitz; Mike Ames; Lyle Martin; Don Pease; Ron Cappel; Earle Kittleman; and Brian Smith.