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Eddie Zollman (1903-1999)
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EDDIE ZOLLMAN: Organist Of The Year
.....Conversation To Fill A Lifetime.....

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Eddie Zollman at the Centralia Fox
Highlights of an interview with Ed "Eddie" Zollman, longtime Seattle area musician and Theatre Organist, by Bill Bunch and Russ Evans.
Ed, let's start at the very beginning.
Well, I was born in December, 1903, in Roanoke, Virginia. My father was a pianist, organist, and a salesman in a piano store, and before I was a year old he moved the family to Tacoma where he became organist and choir director at the Puget Sound Conservatory. When I was about six, my dad had a church job playing on a pump organ and I had the "pumpers job"!! Later my father was organist at the Methodist Church playing a Kimball. I listened and learned.
When did you first hear the pipes of a theatre organ?
I was in high school, about 15, and I was invited down to the Tacoma Rialto, a style 35 Wurlitzer, the one with the 37 note Solo keyboard. It sounded so different to the typical sounds of a Kimball with its Phonon Diapason and Melodia that I was so used to!
Tell us about your first paying job.
Well I took lessons from Edward Benedict, the Rialto organist, at $5 a lesson (1918-19), and one day he asked if I would like to go to work. I sure would, I was 16 and ready to go! My first job was the Tacoma Victory Theatre, the old Pantages, on the giant Moller which had come out of the Seattle Coliseum Theatre. It was big, about 31 ranks, colored drawknobs. I was playing the relief show at $90 a week. It was good money and I was started on my career, and at the same time I quit high school as a sophomore. The Moller, by the way, wound up in the Yakima First Methodist, and later was split up. The Moller console was bought by Rogers Jenkins and made into his first electronic organ. It is still in a private home in Portland and Jane McKee Johnson says my name is carved on the inside of the console. This electronic organ was the start of the Rodgers Organ Co.!
Ed, the period of the 20's were the big years in the theatre organ world. Take us through those years of your life.
I'm going to bounce around a bit, but here goes: The Grand Theatre in Centralia was my home for about three years. I enjoyed those years very much playing the 2/6 Morton. The Morton was moved to the Centralia Fox in 1930 and combined with a 4-set Wurlitzer. It's now in the Solberg home in Olympia. On another occasion I went into the Columbia Theatre in Longview the day before the house opened. Sandy Balcom had sold them a 3-manual 9-rank Kimball. A double bolster console that had the look of 24 or 25 ranks!  
Centralia Fox Theatre, c. 1930
The manager wanted it to look "BIG", and Sandy did just that with 9 sets. Arnold Leverenz opened the house with an organ concert and I shared in the Grand Opening by playing the first pictures! This is the Kimball that went eventually to Benson Polytech in Portland, and most recently to Cleveland High School in Portland.
How did you meet Sandy Balcom?
Sandy often stayed in boarding houses while on the road and being single he quickly found the unattached girls! The girls did the introducing! He was absolutely top notch, top banana. Sandy Balcom had this electricity in him---you just looked at him and you felt better. Sandy helped us all in yet another way. He knew where the theatres were and he knew a LOT of organists. Soon he was fulfilling the role of an unofficial agent, getting organists and theatres together where each needed the other.
Tell us about the Centralia Liberty.
This was a big house and Sunday was the big crowd because they had Vaudeville every Sunday. The Liberty started as a 2/12 Kimball, but since the Centralia Fox organ had been enlarged, the race was on! Sandy added a 16' Tibia Bass, then a Tuba and a Kinura. It had overhead chambers and it really sounded good with a big sound.
I understand you were in Yakima a short time.
About 1927-28 I played the Rex in Yakima, but Al Jolson had preceded me with talkies and I had to get creative! We still used the organ--I would put musicians on the stage behind the screen, sometimes a banjo player, sometimes two trumpeters. These little additions helped me keep my job as solo organist--when most films became talkies.
And what about the cute blonde in your life?!
She was about pretty...she was from Centralia. Bertha and I were married in 1926 and raised four children.
All the theatres you played in the Seattle area came after you were married, from 1926 to 1930. Let's hear more about the Seattle houses.
First was the Madrona Garden, a 2/5 Smith unit organ, later moved to Moscow, Idaho. I took the street car and walked part of the way to the Gardens, no car! I played a stint at the Embassy Theatre, a 2/9 Kimball still in the former Harold Shawver home in Edmonds, following a number of years in the Woodland Park Presbyterian Church. I played the Wintergarden Theatre 2/8 Wurlitzer, which was destroyed in a 1945 fire at the Phinney Ridge Rink. The Columbia Theatre Style 210 Wurlitzer which I played was moved in 1936 to the University of Puget Sound. For a time I played the Arabian Theatre 2/5 Kimball (later moved to the Rivoli Theatre). I also played the Ridgemont Theatre 2/6 Kimball, presently in a church in Snohomish.
Things got really tough in the 30's. What happened to organists?
For a while we lived in Portland and I kept busy as a driving instructor. Then one day I got a call from Sandy Balcom and he told me about the Centralia Fox opening up and the organist job was open! That's how I got back in the theatre. Later I got a call from the manager of the Capitol Theatre in Yakima, with a Style 210 Wurlitzer. This was a 2000 seat house and we had a great time doing things like Rhapsody In Blue.
And in the 40's..what happened?
I started playing piano for dance bands and later had my own dance bands. For a short time I was with Sears in a touring show. But the bands were the greatest--the Trianon, the Moore Hotel and the Olympic Hotel.
At the Show Box, on First Avenue, I had a ten piece band plus pipe organ-and the show people I met! Duke Ellington, Paul Whiteman, Jimmy Durante, Sally Rand and Sophie Tucker--what a cast of stars!
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Rhodes Department Store
As the 50's rolled around I played the Rhodes Department Store Aeolian for three years doing the noon concert. I played the Rollerbowl on Aurora until the terrible fire, and also the Seattle Ice Arena.
In the 60's I spent a year at the Rivoli playing for burlesque, and during the 1962 World's Fair, I was busy playing on Show Street. And we really can't leave out the five years at the Granada Organ Loft, playing silents and teaching.
We all appreciate your dedication to the theatre pipe organ, Ed. and wish to thank you for these interesting highlights of your life which cover the entire rich history of the theatre organ we all enjoy so much.
---The Editors

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Eddie Zollman at the Show Box, date unknown.

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Granada Organ Loft

Granada Organ Loft

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