(click to enlarge photos)
In the now 55 years since the Liberty Theatre was razed for the big snuggery of parked cars across First Avenue from the Public Market, a few oil-stained stalls have taken the places of the Liberty’s 1600 seats. “The only theatre built around an organ!” Is how popular organist Eddie Clifford described the Liberty in 1954, which was forty years after it opened as one of the first big theatres built in Seattle for movies rather than some mix of film and variety.
The organ sat front-center – as you see it here – and from its seat some of the best players of its silent film glory days accompanied the films. Half-hidden behind the grills to the sides and above the grand and gilded proscenium arch that framed the movie screen were the pipes and special machines the made the romantic Wurlitzer sounds, and effects like cooing doves, marimbas (you could see the hammers through the grill), canary trills, the sound of surf, and much more. The tallest pipe – 32 feet – was removed for repairs when its dangerous vibrations cracked the plaster.
In 1929, only the 15th year of its joyful noisemaking, the Wurlitzer was quieted as the talkies took over and the screen was widened. Still depression-time attendance was good as management bucked Hollywood’s price policy with its own “New Declaration of Independence” that announced a reduction in ticket prices. The theatre prospered. In 1937 some press agent figured that “if all the money the Liberty has made was laid end to end it would stretch from here to a point twenty-seven miles southwest of Honolulu” – thereby floating a vision of great prosperity with one of a tropical vacation.
While planning to widen the screen for Cinemascope in 1955, management changed its mind and razed the Liberty instead complaining that there were “not enough good films” but plenty of cars needing to be parked. It did not think to revive the Wurlitzer for a new era of silent films – something that is happening now in other venues. The organ was first saved – 15 truckloads – by the music department at Pacific Lutheran University. Now it is at home at Spokane’s First Nazarene church, where it has its own activist chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society. One of the highlights of the American Theatre Organ Society 2010 convention this summer in Seattle will be a cross-state bus excursion to Spokane and the Liberty’s born again Wurlitzer.
Jean contributes a somewhat wider view:
Anything to add, Paul? You might at least compliment me on my double entendre in the caption.
YES JEAN WE HAVE SOME EXTRAS (& continue to click once and sometimes twice to enlarge)
But first our well wishes for you and your puns, may they be as supportive of you as a mother, for one good pun is as good as a mother.
We have more – four more photographs of the Liberty. First another close look at your organ, followed by a wide angle of another production and unidentified too! (something for our reading experts to ponder), followed by another mystery, ushers or performers, we do not know which, posing with an unexplained sign on the sidewalk in front of the Liberty Theatre, and finally a night shot with a happy crowd (we know) gathered to see what that blessedly egalitarian encyclopedia that is written and checked by enthusiasts identifies as “the second talkie photographed entirely in Technicolor.” The blessed media is, of course, Wikipedia, and the film “Gold Diggers of Broadway”.
A happy crowd gathered in front of the Liberty Theatre for Gold Diggers of Broadway sometime after its Aug. 30, 1929 release. This, of course, is only weeks before the great economic crash-panic that began that fall and lingered to the Second World War. So the film’s enduring hits “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” and “Painting the Clouds with Sunshine” were not composed as diversions or compensation for the Great Depression, but would soon serve so.
Gold Diggers was a hit – “one of the ten best films of 1929” as rated then by Film Daily. Wikipedia concludes “Contemporary reviews, the soundtrack and the surviving footage suggest that the film was a fast-moving comedy, which was enhanced by Technicolor and a set of lively and popular songs. It encapsulates the spirit of the flapper era, giving us a glimpse of a world about to be changed by the Great Depression.” To conclude and to repeat the historical point that was noted in the introduction to these four “extras”, Gold Diggers of Broadway was the second talkie photographed entirely in Technicolor.