The Paramount Music Palace is a popular topic on various Indianapolis “remember when” Facebook pages. It was the spot for holiday, office and countless birthday parties. In its first two weeks of operation, nearly 25,000 people had experienced the Paramount Music Palace and lines snaked out the door and around the building.
Located 7560 Old Trails Road (East Washington Street near I-465), Paramount Music Palace operated from 1978 to 1995. The showpiece of the restaurant was the Paramount Publix I (Opus 2164), better known as the “Mighty Wurlitzer.”
The restaurant was an experience. Since the organ was capable of transforming into so many different instruments, you physically felt the music. The bass was a kidney-shaker. The marimbas made you dance in your seat like Carmen Miranda and the locomotive sound made your heart pound. The music selection ranged from schmaltzy to “Star Wars” and visitors ate it up.
There was a time when nearly 30 Indianapolis vaudeville or silent movie theaters used organs to add drama to Chaplin, comedy to Keaton or romance to Garbo. When the “talkies” took over, the organs were sold or put into storage.
Originally installed in the Paramount Theater in Oakland, Calif., in 1931, the Opus 2164, was sold and placed in storage in the 1950s. Edward and Steve Restivo purchased the organ in 1960 for Ken’s Melody Inn in Los Altos, Calif. Three local partners known as PMP Inc. purchased the organ and had it rebuilt, enlarged and installed by the Crome Organ Co. at the Paramount Music Palace in 1978. The original organ had four manuals and 20 ranks (sets) of pipes. After the redesign, the organ had 42 ranks. It was powered by a 15 horsepower blower, which also supplied wind for the percussion instruments mounted on the walls.
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Since the Wurlitzer was one of the largest theater organs in the nation, the 500-seat pizza restaurant had to be built around the massive organ. 4,000 organ pipes were installed behind vertical glass louvers, which controlled the swell of the sound.
The pizza and pasta were fairly pedestrian, but the food was secondary to “the show.” The house lights would dim, colored lights would glow and the gold and ebony console would rise up in a slow rotation to reveal the sheer athleticism of the organist — every limb in constant motion, the organ belting out rich cathedral-like sounds while belching soap bubbles.
Musicians enjoyed rock-star-like status at the Paramount. Donna Parker, Bill Vlasak, Dwight Thomas, Patti Davidson and Ken Double had their turns at the Wurlitzer and signed autographs after their performances. Double credits Paramount music director John Ferguson as one of the greatest teachers of theater organ style.
Double started at Paramount in 1979 and continued to perform during his stints as a sportscaster for WISH-8 and WRTV-6. ”It was great fun, and those Friday and Saturday nights when the place was packed, it was amazing to feel the audience reaction,” he said.
“At the same time, we had to focus on what we players jokingly called ‘The Dirty 30.’ The 30 songs requested the most. Once you’ve played ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo‘ six times in an evening, it can get a tad stale.”
According to Ken Crome of Crome Organ Co., Don Pablo’s offered $1 million for the land to 23 shareholders of Paramount Music Palace. The shareholders took Don Pablo’s up on the offer and closed in 1995. The organ went to the Roaring 20s Pizza and Pipes in Ellenton, Fla., which closed in 2010.
But the Mighty Wurlitzer is not done. In fact, it’s headed back to its original home.
“The console and a few parts of the organ are headed back to the Paramount Theater in Oakland. The rest of the parts are being sold off,” Crome said.
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