Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall was dedicated on the 31st of May 1929 and commemorated both 75th anniversary of the founding of Atlantic City in 1854 as well as the 50th anniversary of the invention of the electric light bulb by Thomas Edison. Designed by the firm of Lockwood, Greene & Co. of Boston, it was conceived as a self-contained entertainment facility occupying 7 acres of ground on the site of a former amusement park named “Rendezvous Park”. Containing its own direct electric power station, radio station, kitchens and telephone system, it was an incredible feat of engineering and at the time of its completion was the largest enclosed free span arch in the world, the trusses spanning 310 feet in width, with a floor to ceiling height of 137 feet and a total interior length of 456 feet.
At the time that the building was constructed, organs were provided as standard stage equipment for any entertainment facility—especially for the accompaniment of motion pictures (it must be remembered that the technology for sound film did not arrive until 1927). In addition to these functions, it also provided music as a part of the entertainment for almost every show in the hall in addition to free public recitals. The difference between this instrument and any of the 7,000+ theater organs installed in American movie palaces at the time was the scale of the building. Whereas the average theater might seat at the most 2,000-3,000 people, Boardwalk Hall’s original seating capacity was 41,000 with the organ speaking into almost 5.5 million cubic feet of enclosed space. To fill this immense volume of air with music (it takes sound nearly ½ a second just to travel across the vast auditorium) represented an immense engineering and musical challenge.
Of the five firms that submitted bids for the construction of the main organ, the firm of Midmer-Losh Inc. of Merrick, Long Island, New York was selected as the winner. Construction began in August of 1929 and was completed on December 5, 1932. At the height of the project, there were over 65 men working both in the factory in Merrick, Long Island as well as on site in the current organ shop. This project was extensively photographed documented during its time of construction which was incredibly unusual in the organ business. It is the most extensive organ construction project in history, exceeding every record known in the 2,500 plus year history of the instrument.
It is a window into the next century of the art, and possesses musical capabilities and possibilities existing nowhere else, and which to this day are not fully understood.
The organ in the Adrian Phillips Theater was designed and installed in by the noted firm of W.W. Kimball in Chicago. A self-contained symphony orchestra, it is precisely suited to the spectacular acoustics of the, 3000 seat auditorium and is equally at home as a concert or theatrical instrument. It is generally considered the finest original existing example of the work built by this firm, anywhere in the world.
For more information, visit www.boardwalkorgans.org.