It’s like traveling back in time to a Golden Age. Every weekend since 1968, the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, California — just a few miles south of where that gold was made — has been showing silent and classic movies with live musical accompaniment, played on the largest Wurlitzer console ever built.
Since the beginning, each show at the Music Hall has started with owner and musician Bill Field sharing a short history of the theater and its celebrated organ, the “Mighty Wurlitzer.” The 2,600-pipe instrument was scavenged from another nearby theater that was closing. The historic organ needed repairs and rebuilding, so Field and his partner found some original Wurlitzer employees who taught them everything they needed to know about repairing such a historic piece, and they set it up in their theater to have a place to play it.
Even today, the organ is on stage so you can watch its cacophony of moving parts, the source of both music and sound effects, while Field pumps out tunes like “When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along” and “Under the Old Apple Tree” (and yes, everybody sings — or at least tries to). There is then a short film or cartoon, an intermission, and finally the main attraction. And if the movie happens to be silent, Bill provides the entire soundtrack.
The Old Town Music Hall has perennial favorites — a Christmas show, the Laurel and Hardy Film Fest, and October horror classics like Frankenstein and Nosferatu. They also keep up a busy concert schedule when the screen is resting. But the key to the whole endeavor seems to be longevity and the commitment of the theater’s community. They’ve been there for almost 50 years, but the Wurlitzer still has a long way to go.