San Diego Theater Organ Group.

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Biographical / Historical Notes

The Fox Theatre opened in San Diego on November 8, 1929, one week after the stock market crash of “Black Friday.” The 3,000 seat theater was the third largest on the Pacific coast, and brought glamour along with silent films to San Diego. Four downtown blocks had to be roped off in order to accommodate the approximately 100,000 people who attended its opening. The films were accompanied by the $50,000 4-manual/32-rank Robert Morton Theater Organ, which contained 3,000 pipes. Its primary organist was Edith Ducker Steele, who played accompanying music while comedy, chases, drama and romance filled the screen. When “talking pictures” established their dominance in 1936, the organ was moved to the back of the stage and forgotten. It was rediscovered by theater manager William Mauck thirty years later, blanketed in dust and inhabited by mice. In August 1967, seven men came together, all amateur organists and industrial engineers, to form the San Diego Organ Enthusiasts Guild, later known as the San Diego Theater Organ Group, Inc. For the next two years, they would be dedicated to restoring the organ at no cost to the Fox Theatre. These men were Carter “Bob” Lewis, D.P. Snowden, Irving Pinkerton, Paul Cawthorn, Wayne Guthrie, Archie Ellsworth and Bob Wright. After the restoration was finally complete, Edith Ducker Steele, the original organist, tested the instrument and declared it “good as new.”

After the restoration work was done, the San Diego Theater Organ Group brought renowned organist Gaylord Carter to play the premiere concert on the newly-restored organ. For the next several years, the group continued to bring many locally- and nationally-known organists to perform on the Morton, including Helen Dell, Bob Ralston and Korla Pandit. Concertgoers were charged only $1 or $2, all of which went to the continued maintenance of the organ. The Fox Theatre became the city's second official civic theater. In 1984, the Theatre was acquired by the San Diego Symphony, and years later after a major renovation became Copley Symphony Hall.

From the guide to the San Diego Theater Organ Group and Fox Theatre Collection, 1909-1997, (San Diego History Center Document Collection)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf San Diego Theater Organ Group and Fox Theatre Collection, 1909-1997 San Diego History Center Document Collection
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Alder, Bob person
associatedWith Alexander, Mildred person
associatedWith American Association of Theatre Organ Enthusiasts. corporateBody
associatedWith Baker, Don, 1903-1989 person
associatedWith Carter, Gaylord person
associatedWith Castillo, Del person
associatedWith Cawthorn, Paul person
associatedWith Copley Symphony Hall. corporateBody
associatedWith Creel, Cheryl person
associatedWith Dell, Helen person
associatedWith Ellsworth, Archie person
associatedWith Erwin, Lee person
associatedWith Fox Theatre. corporateBody
associatedWith Fox, Virgil, 1912-1980 person
associatedWith Guthrie, Wayne person
associatedWith Hazelton, Tom person
associatedWith James, Dennis, 1950- person
associatedWith James, Heidi, 1950- person
associatedWith Kann, Stan, organist person
associatedWith Koury, Rex person
associatedWith Kumagai, Maria person
associatedWith Larsen, Lyn person
associatedWith Leaf, Ann person
associatedWith Lewis, Carter person
associatedWith Lights, Pablo person
associatedWith Mauck, William person
associatedWith Nordwall, Jonas person
associatedWith Pandit, Korla person
associatedWith Pinkerton, Irving person
associatedWith Ralston, Bob person
associatedWith Rhode, Ron person
associatedWith Roseveare, Jim person
associatedWith Seppala, Wayne person
associatedWith Shepherd, David person
associatedWith Snowden, D. P. person
associatedWith Steele, Edith Ducker person
associatedWith Thompson, Don person
associatedWith Thomson, Bill, organist person
associatedWith Wolf, Ralph person
associatedWith Wright, Bob person
Place Name Admin Code Country
San Diego (Calif.)
Organ (Musical instrument)

Corporate Body

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SNAC ID: 30651554