KPEN 101.3 FM, San Francisco
The Mighty Wurlitzer Concert
San Francisco Paramount Theatre
May 30, 1964 (1 a.m. to 2:15 a.m.)

One of the more intriguing “lost treasures” of Bay Area radio is this stereo recording of a late night organ recital from the Paramount Theatre on Market Street in San Francisco, broadcast over KPEN (101.3 FM) and hosted by James Gabbert.

ABOVE: The Paramount Theatre at 1066 Market Street, San Francisco (Circa 1945); BELOW: The Style 285 Unit Organ, as depicted in the Wurlitzer catalog.
ABOVE: The Paramount Theatre at 1066 Market Street, San Francisco (Circa 1945)

Only about a year from its demise at this time, the Paramount was home to the largest “Mighty Wurlitzer” remaining west of Chicago, a tremendous 4 manual, 36 rank behemoth of 1921 vintage, referenced as Style 285 in the manufacturer’s catalog. The broadcast features two of the greatest virtuosos of the Wurlitzer, Tom Hazleton and Larry Vannucci, alternating at the keydesk, then joining each other for the rousing finale.

In between colorful descriptions of the Mighty Wurlitzer, including a “below decks” tour of its innards by James Gabbert, Messrs. Hazleton and Vannucci perform a variety of popular songs, among them “San Francisco,” “Begin The Beguine,” “Meet Me In St. Louis,” “Misty” and “The Stripper.”

The Mighty Wurlitzer Style 285 Unit Organ
ABOVE: The Style 285 Unit Organ, as depicted in the Wurlitzer catalog.

Tom Hazleton was a legendary classical and theater organist, known throughout the world. Educated at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, San Francisco State University and the Curtis Institute, Mr. Hazleton was professor of organ at the University of the Pacific, staff organist at Carmel Presbyterian Church, organist and choir director at St. Mary’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, assistant organist at Grace Cathedral, organist and music director at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, and organist and associate minister of music at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. He was named Organist of the Year in 1986 by the American Theatre Organ Society, and was inducted into the Society’s Hall of Fame in 2003. He passed away in 2006 at the age of 63.

Larry Vannucci shared a similar worldwide reputation, and also taught and mentored numerous students in the art of playing the theater organ. In addition to the Paramount, he played many of the most famous Mighty Wurlitzers in existence, and was a regular performer at the Stanford, Castro and Marina theaters, among many others, in the Bay Area.

San Francisco’s Paramount Theatre was built by the Publix chain of theaters in 1921. Known as the Granada for the first decade of its existence, it became the Paramount in 1931. After the theater’s closing in 1965, the Paramount’s massive 4/36 Wurlitzer was disassembled and subsequently re-installed in the Oregon home of Howard Vollum. After Mr. Vollum’s death, the organ came into the possession of two other private owners before being purchased for the Regent Theatre in Melbourne, Australia, where it made its debut in April 1999.

The recording itself is the gift of Richard Links, who rescued the reel of four-track tape, originally recorded at 7-1/2 i.p.s., from Urban Ore in Berkeley, and digitally remastered it for the museum’s archives. Aside from a few moments lost when the tape reel was flipped from Side One to Side Two (about 48 minutes in), the recording is nearly flawless and captures the impressive sound of the magnificent theater organ with pristine clarity.

On The Air!  FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE…

                      KPEN 101.3 Wurlitzer Concert (May 30, 1964; 72 minutes)

The Bay Area Radio Museum gratefully acknowledges the generous contribution of Richard Links, who not only donated the recording heard here, but also masterfully restored the audio to near-perfect condition and provided background information on the recording and the performers.

San Francisco Paramount photograph from the Historical Photograph Collection of the San Francisco Public Library. Wurlitzer Style 285 Unit Organ illustration from the collection of TheatreOrgans.com

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