In the 1920s, movie and vaudeville palaces like the Embassy were opening throughout the United States. One thing these theatres could not do without was the theatre pipe organ, which, along with orchestras, accompanied the silent films of the day.
Installed in 1928, the Embassy’s Grande Page Pipe Organ is one of three of its size built, and the one of two still in its original home. Built by the Page Organ Company of Lima, Ohio, the Grande Page Pipe Organ is loved by organ enthusiasts and novices alike.
In 2014, the Grande Page console left the building for ten months for restoration and repair. Local TV afflilate WANE-TV did a special report of the comings and goings of the Grande Page:
Over 1,100 pipes fill the Main Pipe Chamber and Solo Pipe Chamber in the Embassy Theatre on either side of the stage, ranging in size from 16 feet to only 7 inches. Instruments include the marimba, harp, piano, glockenspiel, xylophone and the “toy counter,” containing snare and bass drums, cymbals, chinese gong, castanets, tambourines, tom-toms, triangle, wood block, steamboat and train whistles, sirens, fire gong, telephone, claxon, sleigh bells and chirping birds. The complete range of instruments and sound effects helped organists convey the emotions, characters and story lines of each silent film to flicker across the screen.
Drapes in front of each organ grill conceal the baffles that control the “volume” of the organ from the blower motor located above the left organ chamber. Chandeliers weighing over 500 pounds adorn each side of the auditorium in front of the organ grills.
Through the years, this organ has had many guardian angels. For many years, Buddy Nolan was its protector and the most prominent organist to preside at the keydesk. He was first associated with the Emboyd Theatre in 1947. He left Fort Wayne in 1952, only to return in 1960, at which time he helped to recondition the Embassy’s Page. He started a series of midnight concerts, and brought the theatre organ back to Fort Wayne.
The organ continued its aging process, despite efforts to prolong its life. With things looking bleak for the theatre’s continued existence, a group of local citizens formed the Embassy Theatre Foundation to preserve the building for the Page. In 1978, a new Z-tronics relay was added to replace the original pneumatic relay. 1988 brought a complete restoration of the console, with a new Trousdale microprocessor capture action and all new electronic stop actions. A Trivo Bass Trumpet was added to the specification in 1990, bringing the instrument to 16 ranks. In 1994 a Trousdale computer system was added to the organ that allows artists’ performances to be captured and then reproduced through the pipes exactly as the artist intended. The organ also features a key transposer and many other conveniences for the organist.
All of these improvements did not preclude the need for new leather in the chests and regulators. Finally in 1995, the 10 rank Main was completely removed, rebuilt, and reinstalled, and the 6 rank Solo received the same treatment in 1996. After many years of loving care by the many professionals and volunteers that have given hundreds of hours, the result is a marvelous example of what is almost an extinct variety of American Theatre Organ building.
In 2014, the Grande Page console was restored and repaired over a ten-month period.
Today, the Grande Page Pipe Organ remains the gem of the Embassy Theatre. The Page is featured in a solo organ concert series each season, played by the most talented organists of today. The Page also delights audiences young and old as it rises from the organ pit and plays before each movie shown in the theatre and during Festival of Trees each year.
- American Theatre Organ Society National Registry of Historically Significant Instruments designates this as an organ of exceptional historic and musical merit, worthy of preservation.
- American Theatre Organ Society National Registry of Historically Significant Instruments awards Vintage Award to the Embassy Theatre Foundation in Fort Wayne, IN for restoration and modernization of the 4 manual/16 rank Page pipe organ. July 15, 1997.
- American Theatre Organ Society inducts Embassy Theatre organist Buddy Nolan into the Hall of Fame, July 15, 1997.
The League of Historic American Theatres