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Kings Theatre needs organ transplant

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Something big is coming down the pipes for the renovated Loew’s Kings Theatre in Flatbush.

A group of local organ aficionados wants to bring back the theater’s original pipe organ when the famed movie house reopens early next year — but first they need to figure out how to get the instrument back to Brooklyn.

The nearly century-old console is currently in storage in Oklahoma, and the New York Theater Organ Society needs $650,000 to schlep the seven-ton instrument back to Flatbush and install it in the theater.

Ace Theatrical Group signed a deal with the city’s Economic Development Corporation to restore and operate the entertainment mecca in 2011, but the company didn’t key the organ into its budget. So the Organ Society is looking for wealthy benefactors to pipe in some cash — and it has its eye on one of the theater project’s most vocal boosters.

“I know [former mayor] Mike Bloomberg casually — we eat at the same restaurant here in Manhattan,” said the Organ Society’s John Valentino. “I know $650,000 is a lot money for us, but when you’re worth $30 billion, it’s a drop in the bucket.”

As mayor, Bloomberg pushed for the $94 million project to restore the once-glamorous theater, which was built in 1929 and shuttered in 1977.

The organ is one of five “Wonder Mortons” built for the five Loew’s “Wonder Theaters,” Valentino said. The Society obtained the restored console from a private collector in Illinois and moved the $3-million, prohibition-era relic to the American Organ Institute at the University of Oklahoma for storage and additional mechanical work.

But the organ’s pricey bus fare isn’t the only roadblock. The instrument employs massive pipes that compete for space with modern theater amenities, and Ace’s contractors installed duct work in a portion of the theater’s pipe lofts.

“Old organs and old organ spaces don’t exist very well with modern theaters, because of things like air conditioning and sound equipment,” said Ace president David Anderson.

So like the restored theater itself, the resurrected organ may find its voice in a mixture of old and new technology — digital sound could fill the gaps where pipes aren’t possible. Thanks to past restoration, the console is digital-ready, and any computerized tones would be indistinguishable from the analogue version, Valentino said.

“The digital parts are sampled from the same console — the Loew’s in New Jersey also has a Wonder Morton,” he said. “It would be an exact replication of what had been there. You can’t tell the difference.”

Organ Society engineers will tour the theater in coming weeks to determine how an installation could proceed, said representatives from Ace and the Society.

Ace expects construction on the theater to wrap up before the year’s end, Anderson said. The theater will likely hold a month of small events before a grand opening some time in late January, he said.

Even if Ace and the Society can’t find a way to install a playable organ, Anderson said he wants to show off the antique.

“To have that organ in place and able to be played would be an asset, but I would at least like to find a way to secure it on display in the theater lobby somewhere,” Anderson said. “It’s a beautiful piece of history.”

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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