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Dennis Hedberg and the Organ Grinder

Portland’s Organ Grinder

by Grace McGinnis 1988

Catch the starlight in a child’s eyes. Chase the laughter of the children of all ages as they watch Laurel and Hardy try to sell Christmas trees In California. Share with a little, white­ haired lady her joy at hearing the 1919 “Mickey” again “after all those years.” Feel the power of the pipes as the whole restaurant shakes during “Star Wars.” Share with us the magic of the Organ Grinder.

Much of this magic is generated by Dennis Hedberg’s “ulti­mate toy,” his passion since he was sixteen years old and the “working laboratory” for his research on the physics of tremolos (this organ has 17) which was explicated in the THEATRE ORGAN The 3/13 Wurlitzer from the Portland Oriental Theatre inspired this creativity andis now the nucleus of the Organ Grinder’s Wurlitzer

ATOS members heard this Wurlitzer at the 1973 National Convention when Lyn Larsen and Jonas Nordwall presented concerts on Its first 17 ranks. It was also heard during the 1981 Convention when Seattle brought the group to Portland for a day. This summer, fifteen years and 30 ranks later, conventioneers will hear Paul Quarino and Walt Strony per­ form on this awesome music machine.

The Organ Grinder Wurlitzer has, from its beginning, been Dennis Hedberg’s brain-child. Starting with the 13 ranks, he added the 32′ Diaphones from Portland’s Liberty Theatre and has subsequently obtained pipes and parts from all over the country.

. . . the organ as it stands is the largest of its kind in the world . . .

The 32′ Contra Bourdan example, is from the Old North Church (of Paul Revere fame) in Boston, the four-manual console came from Boston’s Metropolitan Music Hall Theatre, and other components were once heard in Cleveland, Chicago, Denver and Brooklyn. This instrument now contains an example of every major voice ever used in Wurlitzer pipe organs. It also has the thirteen-note tympani (some call them garbage-can lids) from the Brooklyn Fox, and a rare set of Swiss Bells from a theatre in Maine. A close look at the toy counter will reveal an authentic submar­ ine “dive” horn which can probably be heard on the other side of town.

Because all of its pipes are contained in glass chambers, so they may be viewed from outside as well as inside the restaurant, it is difficult to maintain a constant temperature (for tuning stability), so twenty tons of refrigeration equipment are employed to keep the chambers and blower from overheating. The wind for this machine is generated by a three­ stage turbine blower powered by a 60 hp electric motor which develops over 6,000 cubic feet of wind per minute at static pressures of 37 and 69 inches of water displacement. A totally solid-state electronic relay and power supply was created for the organ. This system utilizes about 35,000 diodes, 4,000 discrete tran­ sistors and thousands of tiny components. Dennis Hedberg’s quest for the finest theatre organ of its kind in the world actually began when he first heard thepipes in the Oriental Theatre and con­ tinued through his years as an electronics engineer for the Rodgers Organ Com­ pany in Hillsboro and, for a period of time, as manager of the Oriental Theatre. When the Oriental closed, Dennis was able to buy its Wurlitzer, and finding a new home for it led him into the restaur­ ant business. In April of 1985, Hedberg became the sole owner of the Organ Grinder and, while the organ as it stands is the largest of its kind in the world, it is very possible that it is not yet finished! Organ buffs in this  area have been avid “Organ Grinder Wurlitzer Watchers” as the various components of the organ were added, and we have concurrently been privileged to hear some of the finest organists in the country. Regular staff organists in the seventies were Jonas Nordwall, Paul Quarino, Jack Coxon and Don Simmons. While no longer on the staff, Jonas presents occasional “Classic Night” programs which never fail to fill the house. In August 1985, Paul initiat

A Sunday afternoon program of Old Time Gospel Music which has been ex­ ceptionally well received and manages to fill the tables against such competition as the Super Bowl. Organists Dan Bel­lomy, Don Feely and Russ Chilson, complete the staff of musicians and pro­ vide musical entertainment which appeals to all ages and tastes. As we have heard styles and sounds created by different artists, we are reminded that the theatre organ is perhaps the most versatile instrument in all of history.

The versatility of the Organ Grinder Wurlitzer and of the artists who play it may well be the key to the enchantment of the restaurant. When patrons can experience popular, classical, Gospel, or rock music in an ambience aug­umented by thousands of lights, hourly silent movies and a friendly dancing mouse, there is clearly something there that appeals to all who have experienced it – that magic which we hope to share with you.

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