In 2008, raging flood waters silenced downtown Cedar Rapid’s Paramount Theatre. But now, its full voice has been restored.
The Mighty Wurlitzer, the organ that accompanied the Paramount’s grand opening as a movie palace in 1929, has been fully restored and was reinstalled Wednesday.
The historic instrument was damaged in June 2008 when eight feet of floodwater tossed it onto its back on the stage.
“This is sort of the icing on the cake to the tale of the restoration of the theater,” said Alexis Kenleigh, chief marketing officer for Orchestra Iowa. “The organ is probably the voice of the theater.”
She said theater patrons have shared memories of going to see movies as children, with the organ playing out the soundtrack.
“From a community standpoint, the organ is so synonymous with the theater,” she said.
After the flood, a national search and a stroke of good fortune found a new Wurlitzer console, built not long after the Cedar Rapids instrument. The console, the part of the organist’s instrument visible to the public, was purchased from a private collector and shipped to Cedar Rapids.
An historic tax credit fund also made possible a full restoration of the 1,300 pipes that connect to the console. They were sent to Crome Organ in Reno, Nev., to be fully cleaned and restored — a process that hadn’t been completed to this level in the Wurlitzer’s 80-year history, Orchestra Iowa CEO Robert Massey noted.
It was those pipes, capable of recreating sounds from flutes and trumpets to galloping horses and barking dogs, that were re-installed Wednesday.
The $500,000 organ restoration project was paid for through a combination of Federal Emergency Management Agency funds and historic tax credit money, and was a small portion of the theater’s total $35 million restoration.
Darren Ferreter, president of the Cedar Rapids Area Theatre Organ Society, said the Mighty Wurlitzer is now one of only 40 such organs in the Unites States still in its original home. But he said the significance of the instrument’s reinstallation goes beyond that history.
“It’s really a healing process as well as a restoration process,” he said. “There’s a life downtown again.
“No one knew if it was going to come back.”
Want to hear the Mighty Wurlitzer in action?
The renovated organ makes its public debut 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 1, at Orchestra Iowa’s “Resurrection” concert, featuring William Walton’s “Coronation Te Deum” and Gustav Mahler’s “No. 2 in C minor.” Tickets will be available at orchestraiowa.org or at the Paramount Theatre box office, 119 Third Ave. SE., 319 (366) 8203.