121 – 123 Regent Street
Wurlitzer Opus 1034 – Style: F
Original 1925 installation
On the 8th April 1925, Opus number 1034 was shipped from the USA and installed in the New Gallery Cinema in time for its opening on the 12th June. It was only the third Wurlitzer to be shipped to the UK and the first to make its way into London’s West End. It was the largest and most tonally complete of the three and cost £5,500.
Although there were already a few organs installed in cinemas at that time, the Wurlitzer at the New gallery was the first of its type to be heard on recordings and the radio. Initially the series of broadcasts with Reginald Foort at the console were to be of 15 minutes duration, but such was the public delight that they were increased to 1 hour – 4:15 to 5:15pm every Wednesday. Foort continued to record for HMV and his disc of ‘In a Monastery Garden’ became a million seller, breaking every industry sales record at the time. Owing both to Foort’s expertise and the wonderful mellow and ‘lush’ voicing of this particular instrument, the New Gallery Wurlitzer was an immediate and unprecedented success with the public – starting a theatre organ ‘boom’ in this country which saw over six hundred instruments installed in theatres during the 1920s and 30s.This happy state continued until for some reason cinema owners stopped Foort’s broadcasts – and he resigned in November 1927.
Florence De Jong was appointed principal organist, a position she held until June 1938. There were several assistant organists appointed including Florence’s sister, Ena Baga during 1928. Other solo organists included Austin Rayner, Sidney Wallbank, Wilson Oliphant and finally Cecil Chadwick who left in October 1947.
In 1953, after a decline in business, the Rank Organisation (who owned the New Gallery) agreed to sell the lease of the New Gallery cinema to the Seventh Day Adventist Church for £130,000. Between 1953 and 1992, when the church vacated the property, the organ was heard regularly – both during church services and at privately arranged concerts and silent films. During this time the Wurlitzer was slightly modified by S.J. Wright and Sons, the UK representatives for the Wurlitzer company, and some percussions and effects and the second touches were removed. At the same time the console was re-built and placed in front of the stage. The xylophone, glockenspiel, chimes and snare drum remained.
In 1975 a concert was arranged with Reginald Porter-Brown at the Wurlitzer, this led to more concerts and the COS taking on some care of the organ and whilst the Glockenspiel, Chimes and Snare Drum functioned, the Xylophone was not wired at the console. This was rectified by 1989.
At the end of January 1992 the Seventh Day Adventists surrendered their lease to Crown Estates and a farewell concert was arranged with David Lowe and Ena Baga. The building was Grade II listed in 1992, and this listing also included the original 1925 Wurlitzer installation.
Between 2005-6, having been closed for some 13 years, the building underwent a major refurbishment and became the flagship store of the Habitat group. During the building’s conversion the Wurlitzer was completely restored to its original condition by the specialist firm Theatre Organ Restorations Ltd.
The new Habitat store opened on 28th April 2006 with the Wurlitzer being played throughout the day by Richard Hills. Regular concerts on the instrument took place between 2006-8 and again between 2010-11. During this time the instrument was also featured on national radio and television.
In early 2011 it was announced that the New Gallery would become one of the flagship stores in the Burberry chain, and Habitat vacated the premises in March 2011.