Original Location: Los Angeles, California
There has been a degree of uncertainty as to which of two possible locations in Los Angeles the PianOrchestra was originally shipped. The confusion arises due to some verbal misunderstandings, or inferences, resulting from remarks made by Herbert N. Vincent, who knew the PianOrchestra intimately. Vincent said many times that he had worked for Glockner Music Company, but he was also heard to say that the PianOrchestra was in the Wurlitzer showroom when it closed, and was going out of business. Whether this showroom referred to by Mr. Vincent was the one operated by The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company of California or the one belonging to William L. Glockner, a Musical Instrument Dealer, has been a vexing question for many years.
Although it is unknown when William L. Glockner first began doing business under the name of Glockner Music Company, he was, amongst other things, an agent for Wurlitzer. The company's store was located at 917 South Broadway, but then was later moved (circa 1919) to 325 New High Street (now Spring Street) in Downtown Los Angeles, California.
It is also unknown exactly when Wurlitzer first opened a store in Los Angeles. However, during the 1920s, The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company of California (I.H. Lyons, Vice-President and General Manager) is known to have had some kind of sales facility (possibly on the ground floor) in the rather impressive Wurlitzer building. The building, built in 1923, was, and still is, located at 816 South Broadway in the downtown Los Angeles entertainment district, although it is no longer associated with Wurlitzer. The original high-relief cartouche emblazoned with the Wurlitzer name is still beautifully intact today, visible in all its original glory above the street level retail shops. The building was designed by Walker and Eisen, and is a 12-story Spanish Renaissance polychrome terra cotta structure with decorative bands and arched windows. Among the decorations are various musical instruments: violin, drum, horn, Irish harp and lyre. Interspersed with the musical instruments are small red medallions bearing the names of famous composers: Verdi, Mozart, and Bizet. The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company of California was still listed at the Broadway address into the early 1930s.
In January of 2008 new information regarding Herbert Vincent came to light that helps to resolve this long standing mystery. From a 1917 military registration document it was learned that Herbert Vincent was employed by Glockner Music Company. He may have been hired a year or so earlier, but at least it is certain that he was working for Glockner by the year 1917. Then, in the 1920 Federal Census he is listed as a piano repairman working for a music company, which in all likelihood is Glockner, because Mr. Vincent was still involved with the Style 32 Concert PianOrchestra up until it was sold at action, circa 1922. According to Herbert Vincent, the Los Angeles Wurlitzer showroom (whomever the proprietor of this so-called "Wurlitzer" showroom might have been) never sold the immense Style 32 Concert PianOrchestra. Then, when the showroom was closing, going out of business, Vincent said, "everything was put up for sale at greatly reduced prices. The big orchestrions, having gone out of style, were being sold off for next to nothing just to get rid of the big, clumsy, and out-of-date things. Two hundred dollars would buy something like the Wurlitzer Style 32 Concert PianOrchestra."
There is good evidence to demonstrate that Glockner was inded selling out machines at a steep discount and going out of business in 1922. This date is more or less substantiated by the contents of a penciled note regarding the Wurlitzer style 3 Paganini (described elsewhere in this web site) that was sold by Glockner in 1922, for just $375.00, a huge loss when considering that the original price for this Paganini was $4200.00. This note seems to confirm Mr. Vincent's allegation regarding the close-out give-away prices of the large instruments, such as with the Style 32 Concert PianOrchestra.
By 1925 Herbert Vincent is known to have been working for the "Wurlitzer Music Company," according to his still surviving youngest daughter, Doris Thomas. Considering the above, if the Glockner Music Company went out of business circa 1922, and the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company building was erected in 1923, and Herbert Vincent was working for Wurlitzer in 1925, it is probably reasonable to presume that the "Wurlitzer" showroom in question was very likely the display salon belonging to the Glockner Music Company, a prominent Wurlitzer agent. Because Glockner Music Company had on hand a number of Wurlitzer automatic musical instruments it would have been reasonable to call its display area a Wurlitzer showroom.
About the same time that Herbert Vincent began working for Glockner Music Company he was also building up a route of his own coin pianos. They were mostly small, simple to maintain machines, like the tiny Wurlitzer Pianinos, and they were spread around town, some 150 of them, he said. There was nothing big, such as a PianOrchestra, he remarked, because the small machines were easier to move and maintain. Mr. Vincent seemed very practical in such moneymaking matters.
Mr. Vincent related on several occasions that the impressive style 32 Concert PianOrchestra was bought for about $200.00 by a barber, as I remember it. Don Rand, who also knew Mr. Vincent well, remembers it to be a Doctor or Dentist. In any case, Don and I both agree that the person was living in a hillside home somewhere in Alhambra, California, not far from downtown Los Angeles. The big machine was much too tall to fit in the house, or so the story goes, so it was put in the basement. A hole was cut in the dining room floor and fitted with louvers, so that the PianOrchestra music could be enjoyed while comfortably sitting or dining in the house. It reportedly was in good playing condition until, during a heavy rainstorm, the basement flooded about one foot deep. After that, the feeder pumps no longer functioned, so the instrument remained silent, until Mr. Vincent mentioned the machine to Mr. A. Clifford Raney, an early coin piano collector in Southern California, who quickly bought it and moved it to his spacious music room.
A.C. Raney probably purchased the Concert PianOrchestra sometime between 1942 and 1945. It was moved to his large and rustic 40 by 80-foot frame music room located in the then very rural western outskirts of Whittier, California. Access to the Raney Ranch was by a dirt road at the very end of Cliota Avenue (previously named Walnut Avenue, but currently known as Rose Hills Road), at the point where the paved road ended 50-feet shy of San Jose Creek. The music barn, as it was called, was located maybe 100-feet (in a southerly direction) behind the main ranch house. Albert Clifford Raney, usually known as either A.C. Raney or Clifford Raney, was the founder of the Buyers Service Corporation, a merchandise jobbing operation located on Hope Street (near Washington Boulevard) in the industrial section immediately south of downtown Los Angeles. The company, founded in 1920, was a full time occupation, requiring him to spend all day five or six days a week. The Raney Ranch, bought in late 1926 as a safe and beautiful haven in which to raise his family, was, in contrast, a place to play. There were no three-piece suits or other fancy clothes for Mr. Raney while at the ranch. It was rustic and peaceful. Wild birds and water foul flocked to the abundant water flowing down San Jose Creek and the vibrant "jungle" that lined its verdant banks. The area was imbued with a wonderful "magical" quality, I was told, a quality that is happily remembered by his surviving children and grandchildren.
The Buyers Service Corporation catered mainly to people who lived in remote towns and villages scattered throughout Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. Before starting his own company, A.C. Raney has spent many years as an employee of the Santa Fe Railroad, working in various capacities from Chicago, Illinois, throughout the western United States. Thus, he had acquired a keen hands-on knowledge of the people, their needs and the many merchandising opportunities before him, as well intimately understanding the transportation limitations that faced residents in the remote areas of the country and how to overcome them. Thus, the Buyers Service Corporation became successful by providing a service whereby someone in an outlying area could contact the company by telephone or teletype, and have goods and supplies purchased without having to travel to a city, and then, in turn, have the purchased commodities shipped to them by railroad or whatever other means might be available.
It is thought that sometime during the early 1930s is when A.C. Raney (and his wife, Ruby) first began regularly traveling by automobile, on a semi-annual schedule, throughout Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, in order to make business contacts and to generally visit all the small, rural towns and remote areas to drum up business. Clifford and Ruby Raney loved making these trips, and made many long time friends over the intervening years. Of course, during these month long automobile excursions they were exposed to all kinds of old and outdated stuff, commercial and personal possessions that had outlived their perceived usefulness, but that were interesting curiosities nonetheless.
As the years went by the Raney's built up a vast network of clients and friends that were to later be a priceless asset in helping them to quickly amass one of the country's largest and most diverse collections of saloon artwork and mechanical music machines, along with a large assortment of Navajo rugs and other interesting items picked up along the way. Although A.C. Raney is thought to have come across and taken possession of a few small pin or cylinder music boxes of minor importance, it is probably during the year 1941 that he became highly focused on collecting mechanical music machines, building the big music barn sometime between 1942 and 1945. A.C. Raney died in July of 1949, after three years of debilitating illness. His wife, Ruby, kept the collection intact for several more years, until the state of California moved to acquire the property in order to develop a major electrical transmission right-a-way and what is now the busy San Gabriel (605) Freeway. Thus, the big music room, filled with countless lovingly acquired treasures, had to be demolished in order to make room for the new public construction projects. This unwelcome turn of events meant finding a new home for most of the collection, much of which consisted of large, heavy, and difficult to handle items. Because moving and maintaining such an immense array of music boxes, coin-in-the-slot pianos, orchestrions, and related ephemera was beyond what Ruby Raney alone was able to physically endure, the collection was sold. Walt Disney bought the majority of the large mechanical music machines for Disneyland. The collection of saloon art went to Knott's Berry Farm.
Note: Whittier City Directories of the late forties list two Raney's on Cliota Avenue. Albert C. and Ruby L. Raney lived at h500 1/2 Cliota, while a "rancher," A. Clifford Raney, Jr., and Ruth J., lived at h350 Cliota Avenue (by 1951 the address was listed as 10006 Cliota Avenue), Whittier, California. The son, A. Clifford Raney, Jr., born in 1918, moved to Northern California sometime around 1954. I met Cliff, the son, in 1957, when he was in the Los Angeles, California, area handling the remaining details of his parent's estate after Ruby Raney's passing in November of 1955.
I met Ruby Raney in mid 1955, through a mutual friend, Kenneth Ball, who was also a close and longtime friend of my parents. Every summer my family would journey to Balboa Island, near Newport Beach, California, to visit the Ball family for a day or two, and play on the beach. I had many years earlier, during one of these annual visits to the "Island," discovered and fallen in love with the Wurlitzer style 30A Mandolin PianOrchestra located in the Playland arcade, across the bay in the Fun-Zone on the Newport Peninsula. Since I was so intensely interested in the PianOrchestra, one sunny afternoon, while sitting on the beach, Kenny Ball mentioned that he knew "a woman who might still have some nickelodeons for sale." After asking permission from my mother, who was sitting on the beach alongside us, he offered to introduce me to Mrs. Raney, who, he said, lived in Whittier, which was about a twenty minute leisurely drive from our family home in Santa Fe Springs. Kenny apologized to my mother several times for offering the introduction, in case, he said, that he was getting my family into something that they would later regret. Undaunted, I insisted that Kenny Ball arrange a meeting with Mrs. Raney.
It was probably late July of 1955 when Kenny Ball telephoned Mrs. Raney and mentioned me as someone interested in buying a "nickelodeon." Kenny then telephoned me, giving me her phone number, saying that she was expecting my call. I nervously dialed her number, and after several "rings," she answered. I introduced myself and stated my interest, probably sounding like a tongue-twisted and fumbling idiot. But, undaunted, she said that she still had two "pianos" for sale: a Wurlitzer Bijou Orchestra and a Wurlitzer LX. I ask if I could come see them, when she said that they were not at her home, but located "across town, at her repairman's shop." My heart sank. I did not have a car, being only fifteen years old. Then, for some wonderful reason, Mrs. Raney volunteered to personally drive to Santa Fe Springs, pick me up and take me to see the two "pianos." I was standing in the driveway at the appointed time for her arrival at my Santa Fe Springs home. My heart was pounding in anticipation, as I patiently stood, looking down the long driveway. Finally, a light tan colored 1940's Chevrolet automobile turned into the driveway. She stopped the automobile beside me and introduced herself. Then, after parking the car, she then met my mother before Mrs. Raney and I were off to see the two remaining "pianos."
She drove to Alhambra, a suburb of Los Angeles, and turned off Alhambra Boulevard onto a short side street, and then quickly turned again onto a bumpy dirt alley. After maybe one-hundred feet of alley, she then pulled into a cramped parking area alongside an old corrugated metal building. This odd looking place turned out to be a location I would visit many, many times over the next ten or more years, and this is where I inspected the two remaining "pianos" Mrs. Raney had for sale. Her repairman was Herbert N. Vincent, who remembered the big Wurlitzer Concert PianOrchestra from the 1920s, when it sat unsold on the showroom floor of Glockner Music Company (in downtown Los Angeles), Mr. Vincent's employer at the time. The old metal building itself was the Ross Davis Merry-Go-Round shop and storage building, which Mr. Vincent used as his workshop, spending part of his time rebuilding and repairing band organs for Ross Davis, the remainder fixing organs or "nickelodeon pianos" for others. After inspecting and agreeing to buy the Wurlitzer Bijou Orchestra for the grand sum of $250.00, Mrs. Raney drove me to her home to find the box of Pianino rolls included as part of the sale.
As we reached the end of Cliota Avenue, on the Western skirt of the Whittier hills, we turned onto a graveled road that wound its way through a dense grove of tall eucalyptus trees. The large music room that had once housed the Raney's huge collection had already been demolished, with just a bare patch of ground amidst the forest of trees as a reminder. All that remained of the home place was a modest, but charming looking, perhaps three bedroom, old, wood-sided and neatly whitewashed house with a shingled roof. I wondered how soon the house, which appeared to be in the near middle of the eucalyptus grove, providing a rustic, secluded country setting, would be gone, too.
After a brief musical tour of a few "small" coin pianos, which Mrs. Raney intended to keep, the largest being a Seeburg G orchestrion, she led me outside and down through an outside stairway into the basement. There was a multitude of music rolls and music box disks piled everywhere on the old concrete floor. A single electric bulb dangled from the open beam ceiling, illuminating the entire basement, and making it seem eerie and mysterious. I was too young and innocent then to realize the significance of the music stash that lay before my eyes. She had several cardboard boxes full of Pianino rolls piled in her basement, some of which she kept. To get to some of the rolls, she had to rummage though stacks of other kinds of boxed music rolls, pushing aside piles of stuff in the process. There were probably ten stacks of Regina, Polyphon, Symphonium, and other makes of music box disks, of varying sizes, some stacks several feet high, all sorted by make and size. Even to my untrained eye, I was astonished at the quantity and variety that confronted me. Sadly, Mrs. Raney died not long after I met her, just a couple of days before her scheduled move away from the old home place on Cliota Avenue. In 1957 I purchased the remaining Wurlitzer LX, with Mr. Vincent's help. He put me in touch with A. Clifford (Cliff) Raney, Jr., the son, who lived in Northern California on a foothill ranch near Madera, California. Clifford Raney, Jr, handled the sale of the last Raney instruments offered for sale. Cliff Raney, Jr., passed away in July of 1992.
During 1953 the collection was offered to several prominent people, hoping to find a new home for the collection. Liberace was reportedly one of the people contacted, but he was not interested, or so the story goes. Walt Disney, however, visited Mrs. Raney and the collection, and was dazzled by what he saw. This was just a short time before the large music room was to be demolished. He purchased some thirty machines, to be placed in his new Disneyland theme park located in Anaheim, California, which, at the time, was still in the early stages of construction. The Wurlitzer style 32 Concert PianOrchestra was part of Disney's purchase. I remember Mrs. Raney telling me that she felt that "the machines had found a good home, one where they would be cared for and appreciated," otherwise, she said, "I would not have sold them to Disney."
The newly acquired Disney machines were shipped to a large storage building at Disneyland, where Herbert N. Vincent, and his son-in-law, Ray, worked on many of them, including the style 32 Concert PianOrchestra, preparing them for the day when the park opened to the public. Mr. Vincent remarked to me that Walt Disney, himself, would often wander around the park, greeting workers, while inspecting and making certain that things go the way he wanted. Apparently he was meticulous in overseeing the detail and quality of the park's construction. Mr. Vincent said that Disney seemed to be very friendly, and had spoken to him several times. Once the park was opened, Mr. Vincent, and his son-in-law Ray, continued to restore and service some of the Disney machines for about a year, when, completely fed up with having to deal with some 44 trade unions, they ceased any further work for Disneyland.
Mr. Vincent expressed that he was particularly irritated with the fact that he was not allowed to do certain kinds of work on an instrument. Fortunately, since there was no union for pneumatic restoration work in regards to coin pianos, he could work on most aspects of an machine unfettered. However, whenever his work required something that might clearly be defined under a woodworking, electrical, or metalworking tradesman's job description, such as fixing an electrical cord, a union tradesman either had to do the work, while Vincent instructed him on what to do, or the tradesman had to stand by twiddling his thumbs while Vincent did the job. Either way, Mr. Vincent was not happy, as this make-work process was not only frustrating, but it often greatly compromised the quality of the finished work, the union person being wholly unfamiliar with automatic musical instruments. I remember Mr. Vincent telling me that to put an electrical plug on an instrument, so that he could test his work, he once had to wait for several hours, until a union electrician finally came by and screwed the plug onto the end of the already attached electrical cord.
By the time the park was ready for paying visitors in 1954 the PianOrchestra had been moved from the storage warehouse and placed in the main street arcade, just inside its spacious front opening. It is pictured in Harvey Roehl's Player Piano Treasury on page 211. Many times I stood in front of that big machine and pumped coins into it. It was in a poor location to enjoy the instrument, however, since the arcade was constantly filled with the ear-shattering sound of artificial gunfire from the nearby shooting gallery. Other mechanical arcade clatter joined in, too, the noise literally drowning out the relatively faint sounds of the softly playing PianOrchestra.
At the time of Disneyland's opening, in 1954, the PianOrchestra roll changer usually held several early red or white paper Wurlitzer rolls. Herbert Vincent said that when a roll would tear or somehow be essentially unusable for Disney's purposes, the maintenance crew would simply toss the music roll in the trash. There was no apparent appreciation for what was being lost. How many one-of-a-kind PianOrchestra rolls were thrown out is unknown, but as the years rolled by I noticed that more and more it was the tough and more durable green paper music rolls that tended to populate the roll changer. By the time that Hathaway & Bowers, Inc., was in business in 1967, early vintage Concert PianOrchestra music rolls were considered to be quite scarce.
The Wurlitzer Concert PianOrchestra on location
in the Main Street Arcade,
DisneyWorld, Orlando Florida.
The PianOrchestra was reportedly "rehabbed" and the case painted with a broad "false graining" of the same type found on Disneyland's outdoor trash cans. It was then shipped to Disney World, Orlando, Florida, on loan for display purposes. Later on the case was reportedly "refinished" again, this time by fitting it with a Formica false front. Richard Bair, a technician at Disney World between the years 1988-1990, stated that he observed other Disney employees remove the Formica and then replace it with American oak that was finished in a dark brown color with an "antique" silver mist. This second non-original looking case rehab stayed with the PianOrchestra until the company finally sold it, circa 1997.
It was during this same 1988-1990 time period that piano action was rebuilt (by an unknown technician, and the original piano action parts disposed of once the action was refurbished). Other work on the PianOrchestra included the making of a whole new main valve chest, or stack. Richard Bair, the technician building the new chest had elected to not restore the original unit, because he thought the old chest was in such bad condition that replacing it was the only option. The original Philipps valve chest was saved, however, and is currently being used as a pattern to create another new main stack, one that will precisely replicate the original Philipps design, both in style and in the types of wood used.
In 1990, a man by the name of Bob Moore, who had grown up since birth around band organs, became the custodian of the automatic musical instruments at Disney World. One thing that was impressed upon him from the very start was that the Disney company was not running a museum, although they did want the machines to run properly and to look good. This was an exciting challenge and opportunity, and the Wurlitzer Style 32 Concert PianOrchestra was an important specimen in Bob Moore's eyes. Thus, he did what he could to preserve and restore the wondrous big machine, which required him to balance the company's desire to have the instruments out where they could grab quarters against his desire to preserve valuable pieces of history. In his own brief words, here is more of Bob Moore's interesting story:
Shortly after I started working for Disney World I noticed that the base of one of the main timbers in the PianOrchestra's piano frame was completely eaten away by what appeared to be termites. I was concerned that the structural integrity of the piano would be compromised, so I convinced the company to remove the machine from the Main Street Arcade, so that repairs could be made. We piled all the parts together and had an exterminating company tent and gas it, just in case there was anything still alive and active. After that, I spent several weeks making repairs and tuning the instrument as best I could, and I was able to get the roll changer working reliably, too, since it had been disabled to only play one roll over and over. The feeder pumps were also in bad shape, so I recovered them as well. When I was finished the PianOrchestra sounded great, in spite of the fact that there were still some deficiencies that I could not correct, such as missing pipes.
I hand cut a test roll to help in tuning the instrument, which, although a bit crude, enabled me to play each note individually. To tune the huge machine, I positioned the top case section of the PianOrchestra on the floor, just in front of the bottom section. Next, I laid planks across the top section to make a platform, so that I could climb up onto this temporary scaffold to gain easy access to the many ranks of pipes. I also made an electronic control that would automatically play the instrument every fifteen minutes if no one put a coin in the machine.
Bill Sullivan, who was the vice president of the Magic Kingdom, was the person chiefly responsible for the PianOrchestra coming to Florida from California. He loved to listen to it, and so a push button was mounted on the back of the instrument, so that it could be started at any time just for him. Still, I was limited by my supervisors to do only what was needed to keep the PianOrchestra sucking in quarters. It was quite frustrating for me, but I did manage to do a little extra work on it from time to time. I had to prioritize my work based upon the display value of each instrument. It was my goal to have comparable instruments in storage ready to go on display to replace those that were in current use. This way I could, in turn, remove each instrument to the shop and do a complete overhaul if needed, without a location being without an instrument. The Seeburg H (purchased from the Eakins collection in 1977) was a spectacular machine and I felt that it was a good replacement candidate for the Wurlitzer PianOrchestra when it needed repairs.
Having to maintain what was on public display and in constant use consumed a lot of my time. Many of the music rolls also needed fixing, and so I spent a lot of time repairing music rolls for the PianOrchestra. What I needed were good rolls with snappy tunes to fill the roll-changer, but a large portion of what we had was of a classical nature and unsuitable for our use. We had some music rolls that were intended for photoplayer use in silent picture theaters, arranged so that one song ran into the next without interruption. They were good songs, such as rags, two-steps and marches, so I would cut the music roll where one song would end and the next would begin. Then I would hand cut the endings and beginnings for each tune and provide sufficient space in between so they could be used for coin operation. This tactic was necessary, because we had to stretch what music rolls we had, since re-cut rolls for the PianOrchestra were unavailable at the time.
Bob Moore's comments end here. He worked with the PianOrchestra until it was sold by Disney World, circa 1997, reportedly without the permission or knowledge of Disneyland, the corporation that supposedly owned it. As of this writing Bob Moore is still employed at Disney World in the maintenance department, spending his time mostly as a mechanic working on parade floats.
Click here for more comments by Bob Moore regarding the few remaining mechanical music machines at Disney World, as well as his own story about Growing Up in Roseland Park, an amusement park owned and operated by his parents.
The purchase of the Disney collection (February, 1997) in Orlando, Florida, began with a contact that Dave Bowers had with a Disney World employee. The Company had decided to sell most of the mechanical musical instruments, because the kids that visited the park were more interested in animatics and video games, and the "old" mechanical music machines were too much of a hassle to maintain. Moreover, the employee who had long championed the use and display of the mechanical music collection had retired. Nonetheless, Disneyworld kept two pieces, one was a medium sized street organ that was mounted above a restaurant and was part of the decor, and the second was a coin-piano located in a meeting room, where the company wanted to keep it.
With the PianOrchestra was a wide selection of Wurlitzer Concert PianOrchestra music rolls, although not nearly as many as when the PianOrchestra was originally purchased from the Raney Collection, circa 1953. Over the years as music roll edges would fray and tear, due to misalignment or other spooling problems, and become more or less troublesome, the staff would simply throw the damaged music roll in the trash. As such, by the time the historic instrument was purchased from Disney World the music roll collection had been substantially diminished. Anyone wanting to examine a copy of the Disney Concert PianOrchestra music roll list can do so by clicking on the page thumbnail at right.
To facilitate the purchase and resale of the collection Q. Dave Bowers entered into a partnership with Marty Roenigk (owner of Mechantiques - the operation of which has been moved to Eureka Springs, Arkansas), whereupon Mr. Roenigk pursued the buying opportunity, soon making the actual purchase and arranging for the resale of the collection, which included the Wurlitzer Style 32 Concert PianOrchestra. Alan Bies and Steve Boehck were also instrumental by assisting in the physical process of preparing the many instruments for moving. All in all, some 25 pieces were bought, which included the big Concert PianOrchestra, a number of band organs, a double Violano, an Encore Banjo, and more. The entire group of machines were resold, with the exception of the Seeburg H, which Mr. Roenigk kept and put on display in the lobby of his historic Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
The furniture casework for the huge Concert PianOrchestra, when acquired from Disney World in Florida, was structurally in very poor condition, and it had been sloppily re-veneered using a plain-sliced American oak that was glued over the original veneer with a rubber type cement. Moreover, this poorly applied veneer overlay was misted with silver paint to provide an "antique" appearance. Adding insult to injury, holes of various sizes (and for unknown reasons) had been carelessly drilled into the case, and a few of the applied carvings had been knocked loose and lost. Internally, the majority of the intricate mechanical mechanisms and pipework were basically intact, although some of the chests were in poor condition, due to inexperienced hands tampering with the delicate valves and other parts. The main valve chest (or stack) has been completely replaced, but, fortunately, the original stack had been kept, so that it could now be used as a pattern to manufacture a new and exact replica of the original. Thus, the once mighty instrument was in sad looking condition, but restorable and still a fine example of a large Philipps/Wurlitzer orchestrion.
Once the historic and exceedingly rare Concert PianOrchestra became the property of Mr. Gilson he had the foresight to put the job of restoring the casework (with all mechanical components removed) into the very capable hands of the late John Gonzales, along with his equally talented son, Steve, (located in Pico Rivera, California), who are well known and respected for meticulous and exacting piano and case restoration work. So, with an experienced team consisting of John and Steve Gonzales, and their veteran assistant, Mike Palmer, the work rebuilding the giant PianOrchestra case began in September of 2001. Gradually, the ersatz veneer job was carefully stripped away to reveal the original rift-grain oak underneath it. Once this was done, the case was structurally brought back together to form a strong and integral framework. Certain parts of the big case needed to be completely re-veneered, and, where such was absolutely necessary, the work was done correctly using the proper rift-cut European oak. Then, damaged corners, edges, and gouges in the basic framework, doors, and removable panels were painstakingly repaired, giving the case a sharp, like new appearance.
During all this basic cabinet repair work any missing carvings were either copied from surviving examples, or accurately scaled and duplicated from existing photographs. This delicate job was given to and accomplished by the master carver Ed Roth, of Long Beach, California. As all of the tedious and meticulous woodworking was completed, which amounted to some six-months of concentrated, uninterrupted effort, the casework was stained and refinished in black, with the oak grain then filled with silver-grey glaze, so as to have the finished casework match its original Wurlitzer silver-grey style appearance. Finally, yellow-gold bronzing, with a thin grey-black glazing, was applied to the various decorative wood carvings, bringing out the stunning elegance of the impressive PianOrchestra. Thus, standing regally tall once again, the casework and refinishing was successfully completed by the Gonzales team in January of 2003. Sadly, John Gonzales passed away in march of 2003, the Concert PianOrchestra restoration being his final expression of artistic excellence.
Once the furniture case rebuilding and refinishing was completed the dismantled parts were shipped to Reblitz Restorations, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Art Reblitz's restoration company was already well into the process of meticulously rebuilding the interior mechanical components. Then, once the casework arrived in the restoration shop, support shelves and the complicated components could begin to be assembled and interconnected within the exterior structural framework, giving the large orchestrion a more familiar appearance.
Bob Grunow, a valued employee of Reblitz Restorations, did most of the beautiful woodworking on the internal mechanisms, as well as the releathering of components and the careful restoration of the wooden pipes. Dana Johnson, an independent rebuilder, provided a huge photo album full of detailed photographs of both the Milhous collection's restored Wurlitzer Style 32-A Concert PianOrchestra, and the Nethercutt Collection's restored Wurlitzer Style 32 Concert PianOrchestra. Mr. Johnson also supplied perfect reproduction Philipps valve plates, some custom-made piano action parts, drums, and other important items. Andy Meyer, an independent artist, beautifully restored the metal pipework. Art Reblitz's was mainly responsible for research, engineering, and design, ordering the correct raw materials, electrical wiring, assembly, and installation of components, interconnecting tubing, regulating, voicing the pipework, tuning, and finally setting up the newly restored orchestrion at the owners facility in Wisconsin. The finished PianOrchestra was shipped and set up in its new home as part of the Gilson collection in October of 2005.
Information provided by Terry Hathaway, Don Rand, Art Reblitz, Bob Moore and Q. David Bowers.
Circa 1912 Wurlitzer catalogue; Player Piano Treasury (by permission of University Press of America, Inc.); Terry Hathaway, Bob Moore and Art Reblitz.