When guests enter the Bardavon, history envelops. It speaks: from the domed ceiling hiding its earlier incarnation to the aged and dusty basement, where forgotten memories are buried beneath coal ashes.

Over the years, the “Grand Dame” has had her highs, and certainly her share of lows. From the mid-20th century through the 1970s, hard times chipped away at her. And as a final indignity, she was robbed of her “Golden Voice”: the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ. She was unable to protest when short-visioned powers condemned her to the wrecking ball and her history and beauty were about to be paved over.

But those who remembered the good times marshaled those who believed, and together they found an 11th-hour reprieve. Their combined forces convinced the community that this beloved House should not only remain, she should survive and prosper! And with that hope came those determined to return the Bardavon’s “Golden Voice,” whose pieces were found scattered around the City of Poughkeepsie, to her rightful place.


From the time of its installation in 1928, the Wurlitzer pipe organ played an essential role in the Bardavon’s offerings, whether to accompany early silent films or enhance its musical palette. However, in the 1960’s, it was removed and taken to a private home in Scarsdale, NY. A decade later, the organ was trucked back once more to Poughkeepsie, and unceremoniously placed in storage to await an uncertain future.

In 1983, New York Theatre Organ Society (NYTOS) uncovered this significant piece of the Bardavon’s history, bought her, and in 1985 forged an agreement with the Bardavon for permanent re-installation under NYTOS’ ownership. The community rallied once again and fundraising for the restoration process began.

NYTOS spent tens of thousands of dollars, and an almost equal number of volunteer work hours, restoring this magnificent instrument. In September 1990, the Bardavon’s “Golden Voice“ was brought home. Her return placed the Bardavon on par with Radio City Music Hall as one of the few remaining New York theaters to still have its original pipe organ in place.

Times change, technology changes. Organists began asking for more features and thus a new specification was created. Subsequent additional funding and volunteer labor brought the organ up to its current condition. In the first renovation the original “control system” was replaced with a more reliable, useful, and expandable electronic system. Thus, the organ’s seven sets (ranks) of pipes, were increased to 10, and many more features and sound effects were added.

However, all sounds – with two small exceptions – are still acoustically and mechanically air pressure-operated, driven by a 5-horsepower blower located in the theater’s upper reaches. With it’s musical core intact, the Mighty Wurlitzer and its place in history live on!


* Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe organs were the first “synthesizers” in that the organist can reproduce a full orchestra with a wide array of percussions and special effects.
* Wurlitzer Theatre organs were built for entertainment of the masses. Yet, they can hold their own in classical repertoire.
* A single note requires up to 10 different moving parts that all work correctly in tandem.
* There are hundreds of wires with thousands of hand-made electrical connections.
* If an organ like this could be built today, it would cost more than $300,000.
* Its primary components are mostly organic materials: wood, leather and sheet metal. It is a living, breathing instrument, and like any organic body it needs to be nurtured and exercised to stay in shape.


Wurlitzer Co. called the organ a ‘stock’ 2 manual 7 rank style “E” instrument. The keyboard console only hints at the complete instrument. Two 1300 cubic feet chambers – one on House Left (Main) and one on House Right (Solo) – contain over 700 organ pipes, divided as follows. Main: Diapason, Flute, Strings and Celeste, and the Chrysoglott (harp). Solo contains the Tibia, Vox Humana and Trumpet, as well as traps, percussions and sound effects. Two more upper chambers house the tremulants and offset regulators.

Since 1993 NYTOS added a Clarinet and an Orchestral Oboe, with an English Post Horn and a bass octave for the Tibia in the final expansion.

Currently, work is underway to enhance the instrument’s capability further with digital voices while maintaining the original 1928 core of the instrument.


As owners of the Bardavon’s organ, tmembers of the New York Theatre Organ Society are responsible for its care and maintenance, which is undertaken primarily with volunteer labor. An ongoing critical issue is securing funds for materials and/or retaining professional outside assistance.
The New York Theatre Organ Society is a registered not-for-profit 501(C)(3) corporation, and encourages you to be a friend to our historic Wurlitzer Pipe Organ. For more information, please call 845-266-3858, visit, or write to: NYTOS Chairman, 58 Breezy Hill Road, Staatsburg, NY 12580.


Stephen and Julia McC. Dunwell
John & Arendje(Sis) Vanderlee, Sr.
Betty Strang


Mr. & Mrs. John Vanderlee, Jr.
Robert Strang
Thomas Stehle
David A. Kopp


Principal: Juan Cardona, Jr.
Adjuncts: John Baratta, Carl Hackert, Ned Spain, Larry Hazard


John Vanderlee Jr., Curator
William Hayter
Phil Iehle
Robert Lumb, asst. Curator
Paul Roughgarden
Lowell Sanders
Thomas Stehle
Robert Strang(Retired)
Bill Volckmann


John Vanderlee, Chairman
Grant Chapman, Vice Chairman
Nick Myers, John Valentino, Joint Secretary
Brother Robert Lahey, Treasurer


IBM Corporation
The Bardavon 1869 Opera House, Inc.
Allen Organs
Hyde Park Central School District
Vassar College
And countless occasional supporters.