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Music Box (Tacoma, Broadway) Theatre
3/14 Robert Morton
Tacoma, Washington
Broadway & 9th
Organ installation timeframe: 1920s - 1963
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The Tacoma Theatre, c.1907


Postcard view of the Tacoma Theatre building, pre-1913
The Music Box originally opened as the Tacoma Theatre on January 13th, 1890. The elaborate Tudor-style building covered a full city block. A three-manual Robert Morton theatre pipe organ was installed in the 1920s. The exact install date is unknown. Some records indicate the instrument was a 3/12, others have 3/14.
In 1927, the theatre operated as the Broadway. Sometime before 1935, the name was changed to Music Box.
On May 1st 1963, there was a fire at the theatre which destroyed most of the building - including the organ chambers. The console was not initially harmed but the fire department would not allow local hobbyists to rescue the console - it was totally destroyed by water used to cool "hot spots" after the fire was extinguished.
Tacoma Theatre program, c.1934 --->
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Gunnar Anderson at the console, date unknown
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Music Box Theatre Robert Morton console, date unknown
From Paul Sahlin of Burlingame, CA received March 2010
"I had a long and close friendship with Gene Nye and Bill Bunch and we spoke often of the Morton in the Music Box-Tacoma since Bill played that organ, not for films but over some local programs on KMO. I have a cassette made from a 78rpm amateur disc of the program where Bill was playing in 1938 when he was a college student I think. He would play a tune and people would call in to identify it. I think KMO had a studio in the Music Box building with a little 4r either Morton or Wurlitzer. I remember in the 40's watching thru the studio glass a live religious broadcast by the Hagmans and a soloist. They owned the local Bible Book Store."
"Bill always said the Music Box Morton was a 3/14. This was the disposition he gave me."
1. 16' 85p Diaphone
2. 16' 97p Concert Flt
3. 16' 97p Concert Violin
4-5. 8' IIr 146p Celeste Violin
6. 16' 85p Tuba
7. 8' 61p Clarinet
8. 16' 97p Tibia
9. 8' 61p Post Hn
10. 8' 61p Trumpet
11. 8' 61p Sax
12. 16' 85p Bassoon/Oboe Hn
13. 8' 61p Kinura
14. 8' 61p Vox
Solo ex the Vox was on 15"wp
"The Tacoma Theatre opened Jan 1890 with 1,300 seats. I believe the same special yellow brick on the exterior were used on Stadium Hi Sch and the old City Hall. They came around the Horn from some brick yard in the east. Rhodes Bros who owned the major dept store on 11th & Bdwy bought the Tacoma Th in 1925 for $450k and did extensive remodeling of the auditorium cutting back on the original large stage and other changes to add 500 new seats. Chambers were built in the ceiling for the Morton installed by Sandy Balcom & Pop Vaughan in 1926.In 1927 the "new" Tacoma opened as the Broadway drawing 20,000 in the first week gala. The Morton was billed as having 1,000 pipes. John Hamrick was destined to own most of the important theatres in Tacoma, Seattle and several other PNW cities and he bought the Broadway in 1933 and changed the name to the Music Box."
"The fire on 1 May 63 started from a faulty A/C fan motor in the attic near the attic Morton chambers and it spread rapidly into areas very difficult for firemen to fight. About 100 patrons in the afternoon matinee were watching Hitchcock's "The Birds." It's likely the organ chambers were among the first to be demolished by the flames."
"I heard the Morton once in 1962. Everything worked and it was in fairly good tune even. It made a very large musical presence in that auditorium. I was led to believe that several local organists had a deal with theatre management to come in after the last show closed as often as monthly to play in the wee hours while the house cleaners were working. While Morton advertised some stock catalog models or styles it seems they tended to go around those much of the time. If this was a stock model it may have been about as large as their stock styles went. Morton sales in Tacoma during the 20's were through the local Sherman-Clay Music Store with B&V normally doing the installations. The church I grew up in Tacoma has a 1929 2/7 Morton church model acquired thru S-C [$5k] that B&V installed."
"Had the Music Box never burned it's hard to say what might have happened to the organ. It would have been a miracle for it to have survived to today still in the theatre and still untouched."
Paul Sahlin
Burlingame, CA

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Sign for a show at the Broadway Theatre starting October 7, 1927
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Crowd in Broadway Square, c.1935. Note Rialto Theatre signage on 9th St.
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Another view of the Music Box console
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The Music Box was previously named the Broadway Theatre. A group of students from College of Puget Sound (now University of Puget Sound) is shown at the Northwest entrance in this 1927 photo, courtesy William Zinn.
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Looking North on Broadway, c.1940
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Glimpse of the Music Box Theatre building, c.1940
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Looking North on Broadway, c.1948
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Looking east on 9th St, c.1953. Roxy (Pantages) Theatre also shown.
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Intersection of Broadway and St. Helens Streets, c.1950s

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Postcard for the Tacoma Theatre, 1907

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