A Brief History of the Isle of Man Wurlitzer

Wurlitzer Facts
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The Wurlitzer installed in the Villa Marina Arcade is an outstanding and rare example of its type. 

It is a sister instrument to the one originally installed in the famous Tower Ballroom, Blackpool for the legendary organist Reginald Dixon.

A Brief History of the Isle of Man Wurlitzer

The Wurlitzer was built in Tonawanda, USA and signed out of the factory on 25th November 1929. Described as a Style 200 Special, it was given the opus number 2081.

It was originally destined for the Marlborough Cinema in Holloway, London. However, on arrival in the UK it was thought that it was too small so was instead installed in the smaller City Cinema in Leicester, where it remained until 1957.

Bought for private use by Councillor Allan Hickling, it was installed into underground rooms in the garden of Dormston House, Sedgley, where it became well known after being played on BBC Radio 2 programme “The Organist Entertains” by an organist called Brian Sharp.

Acquired by the Isle of Man Government in 1989, it became popular entertainment for tourists at Summerland until its closure in 2004.

The Wurlitzer has now been fully restored by renowned organist, Len Rawle and is the focal point of the newly refurbished Villa Marina Arcade.

Read more about the Villa Marina Arcade's history on Culture Vannin here.

11 Facts about The Wurlitzer

1. The name Wurlitzer comes from German immigrant (Franz) Rudolph Wurlitzer who set up the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company in Cincinnati in 1853.

2. Wurlitzer's initial success comes from defence contracts to provide musical instruments to the U.S. military

3. Wurlitzers became popular at fairgrounds, carnivals and carousels during the 1800s.

4. Wurlitzers also became popular in theatres during the days of silent movies.

5. As technology evolved, Wurlitzer began producing electric pianos, electronic organs, and jukeboxes.

6. From 1933, the Wurlitzer name gradually became more and more closely associated with jukeboxes than with actual musical instruments.

7. In 1942, organ production ceased for the manufacture of bomb parts for World War II.

8. Wurlitzer continues to manufacture jukeboxes and vending machines at its factory in Hullhorst, Germany to this day.

9. The Isle of Man Wurlitzer weighs approx 10 tonnes

10. It has a total of 754 pipes, each one is individually tuned.

11. There is also a wide range of percussion such as Chimes, Xylophone, Glockenspiel, Tambourine and drums.

Len Rawle

Len is widely known for having his house built around the Empire Leicester Square Wurlitzer (the largest in Europe)! His 17 years as Musical Director of Yamaha UK saw him re-named as Mr Yamaha. He has made over 30 recordings, and participated in many radio and TV broadcasts. He set up 100 music schools for Yamaha UK, trained 400 teachers and their instructors, who in turn taught 12,000 students on a weekly basis.

His full concert diary now means he travels widely and these days he mixes business with pleasure. Last summer Len gave the final ‘Afterglow’ concert at the American Theatre Organ Society’s annual Convention, where he played one of the largest instruments in Los Angeles.

As well as giving concerts and encouraging others to play, he acts as a consultant in pipe and electronic organ installations here and abroad.

A real ambassador for ‘the organ as a means of entertainment’ his enthusiasm always shines through with his love and fascination of the many sounds of his chosen instrument.

Special thanks to Villa Gaiety and Friends of the Isle of Man Wurlitzer.

Lunchtime concerts will be performed at various dates until the 26th September. See more about the Wurlitzer lunchtime concerts here

For more information about the Isle of Man Wurlitzer, contact:

Peter Jordan
Friends of the Isle of Man Wurlitzer
Telephone: 01624-820949
Email: peterjordan@manx.net

A sponsored body of
The Department of Education, Sport and Culture
Rheynn Ynsee, Spoyrt as Cultoor
Isle of Man Government
Reiltys Ellan Vannin
Isle of man Government