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Organ Concerts Hold Keys to His Heart

Movies aren't first love of Dick Loderhose, owner of Bay Theatre. His Wurlitzer is showcased there.


The marquee out front announcing the current attraction, "Where the Money Is," might belie what is really going on at the Bay Theatre, the county's only operating single-screen movie house.

While owner Dick Loderhose doesn't like to talk numbers, in the age of stadium-style, mega-plex theaters, the 54-year-old Seal Beach landmark Bay is not a big money-maker. "I've got 400 seats. How can I make any money?"

But Loderhose is quick to tell you it's not about money. It's not about the movies that play twice a night and on Sunday. It's about a different kind of showtime. It's about how he has transformed the Bay to a part-time showcase for his "Mighty Wurlitzer" organ and the amazing sound of its grandiose pipes.

Loderhose, 74, a retired businessman, says he bought the theater in 1975 to house his prized Wurlitzer, which he transplanted from New York's Paramount Theater. While running a large adhesives manufacturing company, he was unable to produce the organ shows he envisioned the theater would some day host.

After selling his business and having heart bypass surgery three years ago, he again set out to complete his dream by working on one of the largest theater organs in the U.S. On Sunday afternoon, his Bay Theatre Concerts production company will put on its fifth organ show, featuring an organist from the San Francisco area and, of course, the "Mighty Wurlitzer."

With a deep voice, Loderhose who was an organist when the popularity of organ music was high, greets some guests to the theater with a bellowing, "Welcome to the Paramount Theater West."

The theater, built in 1946, is ornate and immaculate on the inside and has 423 seats. The Wurlitzer, with its seemingly innumerable keys and peddles, sits to the left of a rebuilt stage on tracks that enable it to come forward for a show. From the condition of the organ and theater, it's evident that a lot of love and attention went into refurbishing them.

"I wouldn't pour money into a hole," Loderhose said. He says the box office receipts help with rent and upkeep of what he calls his hobby. Moviegoers enjoy the "clean movies" shown at the Bay and the ability to walk to their seats without climbing any stairs, he said.

"It's like going to an old-fashioned theater," said Loderhose, a Newport Beach resident.

He would not say how many hours he spends fine-tuning the organ and maintaining its parts, which include 28 preset pistons, 160 keys 46 ranks of pipes and some flashy effects, such as a Chinese gong sound. However, he admits that maintaining the theater and organ has been a form of therapy since his bypass surgery.

"It keeps me from going bananas," he said.

"What I like to do here is educate some people to something that's really beautiful," he said, referring to the unique sound of organ music, which in another era took the place of full orchestras.

Loderhose plans to continue the organ concerts at a pace of about one every five weeks. He would also like to include some live theater and readings to the theater's schedule. A production of a set of silent movies accompanied by music from the Wurlitzer may reprise in the future, Loderhose said.

Alex Murashko can be reached at (714) 966-5974.

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