The Lafayette Theatre
Suffern, New York
Wurlitzer 2/5 Style 150 enlarged to 11 Ranks.
This Organ plays intermissions every weekend before the movie. It is a NYTOS owned instrument.
The story of the Lafayette Mighty Wurlitzer reads more like an old melodrama than the story of a pipe organ. Wurlitzer Opus 2095 left the Wurlitzer factory on January 31, 1931 and was installed in the Lawler Theatre in Greenfield Massachusetts. It was the last Style 150 (2 manuals and 5 ranks) that Wurlitzer built. Like so many small town movie theatres in the `50's and `60's, the Lawler was closed for demolition. The organ was removed from the Lawler, and installed in the Rainbow Roller Rink in South Deerfield, Mass, where it was rarely used.
Enter Ben Hall, noted theatre historian and film critic. The owners of the rink sold it to Ben, and he, with the help of some friends, removed it during the Blizzard of `68. Ben Hall installed it in his New York City duplex - everything (pipes, percussions, the console, blower) went up two flights of stairs by hand. Tragically, Ben died in 1971 and the organ was once again "orphaned."
Enter the American Theatre Organ Society (ATOS). When the estate of Ben Hall gave the organ to ATOS, the organ was packed up and shipped to California, where it was to be installed in the late Harold Lloyd Estate (a museum to the silent film). Unfortunately, the plans for the museum fell through and the organ was shipped back to New York City where the New York Theatre Organ Society (NYTOS) installed it in the Carnegie Hall Cinema. Opus 2095 played in the Carnegie Hall Cinema for over ten years until the restoration of Carnegie Hall. During restoration, the Carnegie Hall Cinema was twinned. Again the organ was homeless! It was removed and placed in storage by NYTOS members.
Enter Al Venturini and the Lafayette Theatre. When Al Venturini and the Good Samaritan Hospital began working together to fix up the Lafayette Theatre, Dave Kopp, then chairman of NYTOS, contacted Al about the possibility of installing the organ. Everyone agreed that the Lafayette Theatre was an ideal place for the organ. Work was begun in November 1990,and after countless hours of labor by the volunteer crew and nearly $20,000 in donated funds, the organ was reborn. Wurlitzer Opus 2095 played for the first time in its new home in December 1992. Since then, it has been entertaining the weekend audiences at the Lafayette Theatre in the grand tradition of the American Theatre Organ.
About the Lafayette Theatre
In 1921 the Suffern Amusement Company engaged the services of noted theatre architect Eugene De Rosa to design a theatre to be built on Lafayette Avenue in Suffern. Mr. De Rosa and company designed a theatre that was primarily influenced by French and Italian Renaissance styles, including a great crystal chandelier hanging from the center dome of the auditorium. The Suffern Amusement Company also engaged the services of the M. P. Moller Organ Company in Hagerstown, Maryland, to build an organ for the new theatre. The Lafayette Theatre opened in 1922 with the silent classic Scaramouche, and continued to operate through the 1920's with film screenings and live vaudeville. At some point, in the early 1930's, the theatre was air conditioned, and it was the installation of the air conditioning that forced the owners to remove the original Moller organ.
Over the years, the Lafayette has had many owners, but none has been as enthusiastic about the nostalgia of the theatre as Al Venturini. In the late 1980's, Good Samaritan Hospital was looking for a better place to hold its StarFest series. An arrangement was made between the hospital and theatre owner – the hospital could use the theatre without cost and in return the theatre would receive major renovations through the donation of materials by local merchants and labor by local unions. The old stage was refurbished, new carpeting was laid, even a new lighting system was installed. And, with the addition of the Mighty Wurlitzer, the Lafayette Theatre once again became a neighborhood "movie palace."
A New Century, and A New Beginning
All good things come to an end, and the StarFest series eventually ended By 2001, the Lafayette, like so many small-town single-screen movie theatres, was once again in trouble. The owner, Al Venturini, was finding it difficult to keep the doors open, and the mortgage on the property changed hands. Several film theatre chains showed an interest, and the "multiplexing" axe suddenly hung over the venerable old theatre.
In late February 2000, a group of volunteers called L.A.S.T. Chance (the Lafayette Association to Save the Theatre) was formed and worked hard to raise the down payment to purchase the theatre and prevent the multiplexing plans to go forward. The asking price was $875,000 – a tall order for a newly formed citizen's group. Things looked pretty grim, until, at the last moment, Robert Benmosche, a resident of Suffern and chairman of MetLife insurance, announced that he would purchase and preserve the Lafayette. Repairs to the theatre's roof were made immediately to protect the valuable interior and the Wurlitzer organ.
In 2002, the Benmosche's engaged Nelson Page, former ATOS National President and owner of the Galaxy Theatre Corp., to operate the Lafayette as a first-run movie house. Nelson and his crew have meticulously restored the theatre's interior.
Thanks to Mr. Benmosche's vision and Nelson Page's enthusiastic restoration efforts, the Lafayette Theatre now serves the community as both an arts center and a movie theatre for first-run and classic films. Special live performances and activities will be offered in addition to a regular schedule of both first-run and classic films..
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