by Ken Double, President & CEO of the American Theatre Organ Society

JERSEY CITY, NEW JERSEY. The ongoing theatre restoration shows signs of potential spectacular beauty. Ten years of organ restoration had many wondering if the Robert Morton would ever realize its potential. The one is a work in splendid progress. The other is an unbridled success.

The Bob Balfour Wonder Morton at Loew’s Jersey was unveiled this weekend in a series of concerts staged by the Garden State Chapter of ATOS, and the ten years of work was well worth the wait. The sight and sound is nothing short of spectacularly glorious.

Jelani Eddington, who made his professional debut in a concert for GSTOS at the Trenton War Memorial organ, did the honors Friday night, October 3, and ran the Wonder Morton’s 23 ranks through its paces. From the standards of Hoboken’s Frank Sinatra, to an inventive medley from Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera, to Leroy Anderson’s Phantom Regiment, and organ standards Tico Tico and Dizzy Fingers, the program was a delightful two hours of great music.

It was a visionary Bob Balfour who told many disbelievers more than ten years ago that an organ must be returned to the Loew’s Jersey, home of one of the original five New York City-area Wonder Mortons. Balfour had the idea, sold the management, secured the organ, and unfortunately did not live long enough to realize the dream. It was another Bob, Bob Martin, who led a volunteer group of dozens through ten years of labor. The organ’s first peeps were heard months ago. This author had a chance to play it last Spring, and although the sound was “raw,” there was no doubt what was in the works was going to be great.

Ed Zollman was hired to do the tonal finishing, and his final touches have brought out the brilliance of a grand instrument. The organ is nothing short of spectacular, from the fence-topped white and gold console on a rotating lift, to the whisper and roar of the great Robert Morton.

And, as it is stated so often, half of the success of an instrument is due to the room. The tall ceilings and narrow surroundings are the perfect environment for an instrument like this, much of it soaring on 15-to-20 inches of wind pressure. The only unfortunate part of the weekend’s programming was that ongoing restoration work left the balcony unavailable to the general audience for the sake of safety. Those of us who rush to the balcony for the best spots to listen to theatre organ will not be disappointed once that balcony is accessible. Making liberal use of my Presidential post, I garnered an escort upstairs and was simply enthralled. It is literally a breathtaking sound.

Perhaps of greater significance is the fact that this instrument is going to be heard, and be heard on a regular basis. Ralph Ringstadt, Jr. is the house organist and has already been featured in brief appearances before appreciative audiences attending films and other events. Unlike Radio City Music Hall, the Wurlitzer at LIU, and other instruments in this part of the country, THIS organ is going to be heard and is going to be accessible, thus it becomes one of the important installations on the entire East Coast.

Congratulations to GSTOS, to the management at Loew’s Jersey, including Collin Egan who fully understands what the Morton can do for the theatre; to Bob Martin and his crew for spectacular work; to Ed Zollman for a spectacularly finished product, and to all who helped in bringing this dream of Bob Balfour’s come true. There is another jewel among the many truly great theatre organs we enjoy, and it plays at Loew’s Jersey Theatre at Journal Square, in Jersey City, New Jersey.