From 1979 until last year, the Oriental Theatre was home to the Kimball Theatre Organ Society and its vintage Kimball organ, which had been installed in the Warner Theater Downtown when that stunning Art Deco venue opened.
When the club dissolved in 2017, it sold the organ, which was removed from the Oriental just over a year ago.
Now, Milwaukee Film – which holds a 31-year lease on the East Side movie palace – has announced the acquisition of a 1925 Wurlitzer three-manual instrument, Style 260, Opus 1097 pipe organ, thanks to organ restoration specialist Jeff Weiler.
"Without a pipe organ, the Oriental Theatre has truly felt incomplete," said Jonathan Jackson, CEO and artistic director for Milwaukee Film, in a statement released Thursday morning. "We’ve heard time and again from members of the community who’ve been clamoring to know when we’re going to install another organ.
"I can’t begin to express my excitement at the thought of pairing this incredible instrument with our beautiful theater."
The Wurlitzer obtained by Milwaukee Film began its life at the Howard Theater (later the Paramount) in Atlanta, where it remained until the 1950s. The theater was razed in 1960.
"This instrument is a cultural icon of inestimable importance," said Weiler, who is president of Chicago-based JL Weiler, Inc., noting that it is one of only about a dozen in original condition, without modifications.
"We’re very pleased that it will have such a fine home because the combination of movie palace, film presentation and a theater pipe organ is truly the magic of the movies."
Some work must first be completed at the theater before the organ can be installed. That installation is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.
"This instrument reflects the confluence of technological innovations in pipe organs, an American thirst for cinema and an explosion of new movie palaces," said Jackson. "It’s a distinct era in cinema history, and it’s also the era when our theater was built."
You can follow updates on the organ and its installation at mkefilm.org/organ.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.