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American Theatre - 2/8 Kimball & 2/7 Wurlitzer
Butte, Montana
25 W. Park St.
Organ installation timeframe: 1912 -
 
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American Theatre, c.1922
 
The American Theatre opened in April 1912. An earlier American Theatre operated at 41 N. Main St., opening in 1908.
 

American Theatre, during construction, c.1912.
 

Stage & proscenium, c.1912. Note display pipes and organ console in orchestra pit.
 

Auditorium, c.1912.
 

News item in Motography July 12, 1913, p28.
 
Records indicate two organs associated with the American Theatre:

  • 2/8 Kimball installed in 1912 (source: Junchen opus lists). Disposition of this instrument is unknown.
  • 2/7 Style 3 Wurlitzer, opus #126, installed in 1917 (source: Judd Walton Wurlitzer opus list). This instrument was eventually removed from the theatre and its last known location was the State Theatre in Benicia, California in 1973.
     
    Other installation records for the American Theatre create some ambiguity. For example, the PSTOS Bill Bunch/Eugene records include these same two instruments but with "Ansonia" added parathetically to the listings as "American (Ansonia) Theatre." The OHS Pipe Organ Database also uses the "American (Ansonia) Theatre" name, perhaps carried over from the PSTOS Bill Bunch/Eugene Nye records.
     
    Additionally, in his 2016 treatise on Kimball pipe organs titled "W. W. KIMBALL COMPANY AS ORGAN BUILDERS: THEIR HISTORY, INSTRUMENTS & LEGACY," James W. Guyer also includes the "American (Ansonia)" name. It's possible this information was obtained from the OHS Pipe Organ Database which Guyer cites numerous times as a reference.
     
    Based on research of motion picture industry trade journals and advertisements of the time period, the American and Ansonia were two distinct theatres, both opening in 1912. The theatres had different management companies. The Ansonia was operated by Ansonia Amusement Company. The American was operated by Montana Amusement Company.
     
    Photographs and trade journal news items from 1912 describe pipe organs going to BOTH the American and Ansonia theatres, but unfortunately no manufacturer name is included and no other specifics are provided.
     
    An article appearing in The Moving Picture World October 5, 1912, describes the American Theatre's construction and amenities. "Sound effects and music for the picture are produced by a pipe organ which cost $8,000."
     
    By 1917, it was time to jettison the Kimball and purchase a new Wurlitzer Hope-Jones Unit Orchestra.
     

    Ad in The Butte Miner, February 21, 1917
     
    The new Wurlitzer was dedicated by organist C.A. Tufts on May 13, 1917. According to the following article in The Butte Miner on May 13, 1917, the instrument cost $18,000 with an installation cost of $2,000.
     

    Article in The Butte Miner, May 13, 1917
     

    In this 1921 photo, a billboard advertises the American Theatre with "PARKS AT THE ORGAN," most likely referring to Henry Francis Parks who was listed as a composer, conductor, and organist at the Butte American Theatre in the Musical Blue Book of America (1921-1922 edition). In 1921, Parks would have been playing the later Wurlitzer instrument installed in 1917.
     

    Gathering at entrance, c.1926
     

    c.1927
     

    c.1941. Note updated entrance canopy and most of the facade windows have been closed up.
     

    c.1949. Looking West on Park St. - American Theatre on right.
     


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