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Keith's Organ: 1928

Keith's Organ: 1928

Washington. D.C., 1928. "Miss Irene Juno interprets the action pictured on the screen at Keith's Theater on the new $30,000 Wurlitzer orchestral unit recently installed to give the films added potency." Up next: "I'm Looking Around (For a Mate)." Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Mighty WurLitzer?

We have been honored to hear a silent era accompanist, and her grandson (following the family business) play for movies shown at local museums and theaters. When I heard them on the mighty WurLitzer, salvaged from a downtown movie palace, I recall that the brand name has a CAP L. I am SO picky.

[Um . . . -tterrace]

Broadcast Organist

Washington Post, April 1, 1928.

Irene Juno To Play New Keith Organ

Miss Irene Juno, organist at Keith's Theater, is a student of Dr. J. Fowler Richardson, of New York and London. She is the head of the theater organ department of the Washington College of Music and has written many articles on general musical subjects for publication.

She specializes on the Wurlitzer organ, the instrument she is now playing at Keith's Theater. In her own words, Miss Juno says:
“This instrument is one of the largest and most complete in the city. It is priced at $30,000 and is equipped with complete orchestral effects. In addition there is a vox humana, or the human voice stops, a full set of cathedral chimes and a magnificent harp.”

Miss Juno is chairman of the music group of the American Pen Women and also a member of the Soroptimist Club. She is also chairman of the music committee of this club. Every week she broadcasts from the theater organ studio of the Washington College of Music over WRC and WNFF.

Banjos too

I inherited a tenor banjo from my wife's great aunt, who played it in a jazz band in the 1920s. When I took the resonator off while cleaning it I was surprised to find that it was a Wurlitzer banjo. Have since found out they were made by Gretsch but marketed under the Wurlitzer name.

Still a few out there.

This reminded of a silent film revival I attended at the Los Angeles Orpheum theater about a decade ago. A magnificent edifice in its original 1920's movie palace splendor, and with its original organ still going strong. Quite an experience to see "The Sheik" so accompanied. A very satisfying experience, very poetic in both a visual and musical way. Quite unlike seeing a motion picture with a sound track, but no less enjoyable. Almost an entirely different art form than today's motion pictures with a certain live theater aspect no longer present. The organist had a lot of power to put an interpretation into the film, and I'm think audiences must have had very different experiences with different organists.

A little Googling tells me the Orpheum is still a going concern, and that in fact there are quite a few theaters with organs scattered across the country where one can occasionally recapture some of that silent era elegance.

Ooh la la

That's a pretty daring hairstyle for 1928. Love this photo.

It started as a Vaudeville house

RKO Keith's Theatre in Washington originally opened at 619 15th St. NW as Chase's Polite Vaudeville Theatre on August 19, 1912. It was sold to B. F. Keith the following year and renamed B. F. Keith's Theatre. Keith's closed briefly in 1928 (presumably when the organ was installed) and reopened 3 weeks later with movies added to the bill. With renovations in 1954 and 1976, the theatre showed films until it was finally closed in 1978.

The organ survived, at least for a while. It was sold to an individual in Burlington, NC, and was eventually installed in the gymnasium at Elon College (now University) until it was replaced by a larger Wurlitzer organ. The Keith organ was likely broken up for parts since its history seems to end at Elon.

Nothing remains of Keith's Theatre now except the facade.

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What a bunch of tech. fun!

Man, the organ console is fantastic. We have one in a Minneapolis area theater but the vintage lighting and the microphone are really interesting. Great detail in this photo.

Likewise, I was equally drawn to the organist's beautiful dress and sharp earrings and wristwatch. Like most Shorpy offerings, lots to take in.

Eastman School of Music

When George Eastman established his music school in Rochester, it was built attached to the Eastman Theater where silent films showed many times a day, and at the school there was a course in movie accompanying for theater organists with a studio/classroom where films were shown for practice.

Seen around town

You might have seen it yourself, that bumper sticker that says "I don't have to be dead to donate my organ."


What bad timing. This beautiful instrument was already quickly becoming obsolete the day it was installed.

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