The Pollokshaws 3/21 Wurlitzer

The following is an extract from The Pipe Organs of Scottish Picture Houses: The unwritten obituaries and an evaluation of today’s cinema organs in Scotland by Aaron Hawthorne. You can read more here.

The organ, Opus 2213, started its life when it was installed in 1937 at the Ritz Cinema, Stockport. The instrument was installed rather late-on in Wurlitzer’s organ-building life, among the last to be bought in the UK. (Junchen, 2005)Despite the cinema being a large 2000+ seater venue (Roe, 2018), the organ had only eight ranks, as did its sister ‘Union One’ instruments. (Junchen, 2005)

After the organ and cinema succumbed to the fate of picture houses worldwide, the Wurlitzer was bought and put into storage for a great number of years until it was listed in what Ian Macnaught describes as a “liquidation sale” (2019). The complete, unique instrument was saved by Macnaught one day before the organ was to be scrapped and stored in the Summerlee Heritage Museum, where Macnaught and his team were installing the Compton there. The venue of Clydebank Town Hall was identified as a highly suitable and favourable venue to install an organ, and so in 1996, the Scottish Cinema Organ Trust (SCOT), under the direction of Macnaught, set to work in installing the Wurlitzer.   (The Herald, 1996) In its time in Clydebank, three ranks were added to the original 3/8 instrument. 

The Wurlitzer was doomed to a relatively short life in Clydebank however, as regular flooding to the basement of the building (where the pipe chamber lived) became a major issue for concern. After one fatal November night in 2006 (Braiden, 2008), the water rose higher than all of the flood prevention devices and the organ fell silent as SCOT painstakingly removed the many water-damaged components that couldn’t be saved in time. 

Undefeated however, in 2008, SCOT began working on restoring and reinstalling the instrument in Pollokshaws Burgh Hall, a similarly sized building situated in the opposite end of Glasgow which had previously been earmarked as a venue to install a third instrument under the ownership of SCOT. The Trust made significant changes to the ‘ballroom’ of the Burgh Hall by completely rebuilding the balcony where the organ chamber now lives, high above any flood levels Glasgow will ever see. By 2009, the organ was playing once again and was being presented in regular concerts, and with room to play with over the following years, ten more ranks were added to the instrument: ranks which were exported from Ohio, Belgium, and closer to home, ranks from the ex. 2/10 1930 New Victoria, Edinburgh Wurlitzer, which had previously provided part of another of Macnaught’s organ installations in East Kilbride. (Macnaught, 2019)

The Wurlitzer has remained in Pollokshaws Burgh Hall ever since, now among the biggest cinema organ installations the UK today. With a very healthy and happy relationship between SCOT and the Pollokshaws Burgh Hall Trust, the future of the Wurlitzer is a safe one. The well-kept instrument is showcased in monthly concerts from organists of (inter)national acclaim and also used for accompanying silent film events and ballroom dancing, three to four times a year. (Scottish Cinema Organ Trust, 2019)