MS 100 San Diego Theater Organ Group and Fox Theatre Collection

Summary Information

San Diego History Center Document Collection
San Diego Theater Organ Group.
San Diego Theater Organ Group and Fox Theatre Collection
MS 100
Date [inclusive]
2.75 Linear feet (4 boxes)
This collection pertains to the San Diego Theater Organ Group and their restoration and revival of the Robert Morton Theater Organ at the Fox Theatre in San Diego.

Preferred Citation

San Diego Theater Organ Group and the Fox Theatre Collection, MS 100, San Diego History Center Document Collection, San Diego, CA.

Return to Table of Contents »

Biographical / Historical Notes

The Fox Theatre opened in San Diego on November 8, 1929, one week after the stock market crash of “Black Friday.” The 3,000 seat theater was the third largest on the Pacific coast, and brought glamour along with silent films to San Diego. Four downtown blocks had to be roped off in order to accommodate the approximately 100,000 people who attended its opening. The films were accompanied by the $50,000 4-manual/32-rank Robert Morton Theater Organ, which contained 3,000 pipes. Its primary organist was Edith Ducker Steele, who played accompanying music while comedy, chases, drama and romance filled the screen. When “talking pictures” established their dominance in 1936, the organ was moved to the back of the stage and forgotten. It was rediscovered by theater manager William Mauck thirty years later, blanketed in dust and inhabited by mice. In August 1967, seven men came together, all amateur organists and industrial engineers, to form the San Diego Organ Enthusiasts Guild, later known as the San Diego Theater Organ Group, Inc. For the next two years, they would be dedicated to restoring the organ at no cost to the Fox Theatre. These men were Carter “Bob” Lewis, D.P. Snowden, Irving Pinkerton, Paul Cawthorn, Wayne Guthrie, Archie Ellsworth and Bob Wright. After the restoration was finally complete, Edith Ducker Steele, the original organist, tested the instrument and declared it “good as new.”

After the restoration work was done, the San Diego Theater Organ Group brought renowned organist Gaylord Carter to play the premiere concert on the newly-restored organ. For the next several years, the group continued to bring many locally- and nationally-known organists to perform on the Morton, including Helen Dell, Bob Ralston and Korla Pandit. Concertgoers were charged only $1 or $2, all of which went to the continued maintenance of the organ. The Fox Theatre became the city’s second official civic theater. In 1984, the Theatre was acquired by the San Diego Symphony, and years later after a major renovation became Copley Symphony Hall.

Return to Table of Contents »

Scope and Content

The collection consists of items pertaining to the San Diego Theater Organ Group, who performed all organ restoration work and subsequent organ concert administration of the Robert Morton organ at the Fox Theatre in San Diego. The collection includes information on the Group and Theatre, organ repair information, promotional documents, business items, correspondence, and artist information. Highlights include photographs of the organ and its repair, repair notes, official group documents, news releases, performance flyers (from the Fox and other theaters), correspondence from organ fans, and organ-related publications. There is also a scrapbook containing photographs of artist performances at the Fox, as well as autographed performance flyers. Also included are reel-to-reel recordings and a vinyl record of various artists, most of whom performed at the Fox Theatre (not all recordings are from the Fox Theatre).

Return to Table of Contents »


Items in the collection are arranged into four series:

Series I: San Diego Theater Organ Group

Series II: Fox Theatre Organ Artists and Performances

Series III: Scrapbooks

Series IV: Photographs and Audio Recordings

Items in Series I are arranged by subject. Items in Series II and IV are arranged alphabetically by artist name.

Return to Table of Contents »

Administrative Information

Publication Information

San Diego History Center Document Collection August 24, 2011

1649 El Prado, Suite 3
San Diego, CA, 92101

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The San Diego History Center (SDHC) holds the copyright to any unpublished materials. SDHC Library regulations do apply.

Immediate Source of Acquistion

Accession number 2002.102 and 840117B.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Jennifer Ho on August 24, 2011.

Collection processed as part of grant project supported by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) with generous funding from The Andrew Mellon Foundation.

Return to Table of Contents »

Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • American Association of Theatre Organ Enthusiasts.
  • Copley Symphony Hall.
  • Fox Theatre.
  • San Diego Theater Organ Group.

Geographic Name(s)

  • San Diego (Calif.)

Personal Name(s)

  • Alder, Bob
  • Alexander, Mildred
  • Baker, Don, 1903-1989
  • Carter, Gaylord
  • Castillo, Del
  • Cawthorn, Paul
  • Creel, Cheryl
  • Dell, Helen
  • Ellsworth, Archie
  • Erwin, Lee
  • Fox, Virgil, 1912-1980
  • Guthrie, Wayne
  • Hazelton, Tom
  • James, Dennis, 1950-
  • James, Heidi, 1950-
  • Kann, Stan, organist
  • Koury, Rex
  • Kumagai, Maria
  • Larsen, Lyn
  • Leaf, Ann
  • Lewis, Carter
  • Lights, Pablo
  • Mauck, William
  • Nordwall, Jonas
  • Pandit, Korla
  • Pinkerton, Irving
  • Ralston, Bob
  • Rhode, Ron
  • Roseveare, Jim
  • Seppala, Wayne
  • Shepherd, David
  • Snowden, D.P.
  • Steele, Edith Ducker
  • Thompson, Don
  • Thomson, Bill, organist
  • Wolf, Ralph
  • Wright, Bob


  • Organ (Musical instrument)
  • Organ music
  • Organists
  • Theater organ

Return to Table of Contents »

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

Scrapbook pages are brittle. (August 24, 2011)

Return to Table of Contents »

Collection Inventory

 Series I: San Diego Theater Organ Group

Organ Group general information, 1967-1970 and undated

Member information, 1969
Constitution and by-laws, 1970

Fox Theatre general information, 1929-1999 and undated

Includes: News articles about grand opening

Agreement between Fox Theatre and San Diego Theater Organ Group, 1967 July 23–1969 June 26 and undated 1:3
Organ repair information and diagrams, 1968 July 24–1971 March 1 and undated

Notes regarding organ specifications
Organ diagrams

Organ repair news reports, 1970 January 25 and undated 1:5
Promotion and outreach, 1969 January 30–June 30, 1970

News releases regarding concerts

Promotion and outreach, 1970 August 3-1973 June 20 and undated

News releases regarding concerts
Mailing list signup postcards

Meeting minutes, 1971 February 4–1972 July 6 1:8
Finances, 1969 June 25–1971 March 8 and undated

Includes: Insurance quote, 1970

Correspondence, 1968 October 30–1977 January 20 and undated

Correspondence from local and non-local enthusiasts
Donation letter, 1970

“Theater Organ Bombarde” magazine issues, 1966-1970 1:11
“The Console” magazine issues, 1969–1976 and undated 1:12
Miscellanea, 1910 June–1998 May 30 and undated

Postcard from Selective Service, 1942
Newsletter, American Theatre Organ Enthusiasts, Los Angeles Chapter, 1968
Informational brochure regarding: the Wurlitzer Pipe Organ, undated
Concert flyers for artists who did not perform at the Fox Theatre
Invitations to grand openings of Southland Music Center
Theater Organ Society of San Diego directory
Handwritten notes


Return to Table of Contents »

 Series II: Fox Theatre Organ Artists and Performances

General artist information, 1969–1976 and undated

Artist performance listing with dates, 1969-1976
Unidentified set lists
Artist contract form, undated

Bob Alder, 1970–1973 2:2
Mildred Alexander, 1972 and undated 2:3
Don Baker, 1971 and undated 2:4
Gaylord Carter, 1969-1972 and undated 2:5
Del Castillo, 1965-1973 and undated 2:6
Cheryl Creel (with Wayne Seppala), 1973-1976 2:7
Helen Dell, 1969-1972 and undated 2:8
Lee Erwin, 1973-1976 and undated 2:9
Virgil Fox (with Pablo Lights), 1971 and undated 2:10
Tom Hazelton, 1969-1975 and undated 2:11
Dennis (and Heidi) James, 1969-1975 and undated 2:12
Stan Kann, 1972 and undated 2:13
Rex Koury, 1972 and undated 2:14
Maria Kumagai, 1975 2:15
Lyn Larsen, 1960-1971 and undated 2:16
Ann Leaf, 1970-1976 and undated 2:17
James Nordwall, 1968-1971 and undated 2:18
Korla Pandit, 1965-1971 and undated 2:19
Bob Ralston, 1969-1972 and undated 2:20
Ron Rhode, 1974 2:21
Jim Roseveare, 1971 2:22
David Shepherd, 1975 2:23
Edith Ducker Steele, 1909-1969 and undated 2:24
Don Thompson, 1970 and undated 2:25
Bill Thomson, 1969-1971 and undated 2:26
Ralph Wolf, 1971 and undated 2:27

Return to Table of Contents »

 Series III: Scrapbooks

Scrapbook 1, 1968-1969 and undated

Includes: Theatre diagrams (copies); Concert flyers; Concert notes; Photographs; Newspaper articles

Scrapbook 1, 1970-1971 and undated

Includes: Concert flyers; Concert notes; Photographs; Newspaper articles

Scrapbook 1, loose materials, 1969-1979 and undated

Includes: “The Console” (magazine), 1979; Concert flyers; Notes

Scrapbook 2, 1971–1973 and undated

Includes: Photographs; Newspaper clippings; Autographed performance flyers


Return to Table of Contents »

 Series IV: Photographs and Audio Recordings

Photographs – organ, 1969-1971 and undated 2:29
Photographs – Theatre and performances, 1969-1970 and undated 2:30
Audio recording – Harry Bleile, 4/16 Robert Morton Theater Pipe Organ (7-inch record), undated 2:31
Audio recordings – reel-to-reel recordings, 1969 March 25–1975 May 18 and undated 4 (located in Cold Room K)
Classical Music for People Who Hate Classical Music, Gaylord Carter, 1969 March 25
Eddy Dunster, 1970 March 17
Virgil Fox, John Wanamaker Organ, Philadelphia, undated
Dennis James, undated
Dennis James, 1973 May 20
Dennis and Heidi James, 1974 May 25
Dennis and Heidi James, 1975 May 18
Stan Kann, 1972 February 20
Rex Koury, undated
Bob Lewis and Bob Adler, circa 1969
Jonas Nordwall, 1971 February 21
Jonas Nordwall, Portland Paramount Theater, undated
Korla Pandit and Bob Ralston, undated
Korla Pandit, 1971 June 15
George Wright, not recorded on Fox Theatre organ, undated

Return to Table of Contents »

Return to Archival Collections.