Nevada City 2018

Montana Heritage Commission – Music Machine Restoration

The Wurlitzer 150 Band Organ, located in the Nevada City Music Hall was built circa 1920 and is currently missing more than half of the organ. The Wurlitzer 150 needs a top crest, side wings attached, both bass and snare drum added, and a new custom-built player mechanism for the drums and cymbal. This Wurlitzer was built by Rudolph Wurlitzer Co. in North Tonawanda, NY and was the second most popular brass trumpet organ they made. Used mainly in carousels and roller skating rinks, only a few dozen remain today of the several hundred made. It is truly one of the last great trumpet organs in existence today.

Charles Bovey acquired this organ in 1952 from Ozzie Wurdeman and it played in the Bale of Hay Saloon for about 25 years. There the organ earned the reputation of the “famous and obnoxious horn machine” and was somewhat symbolic of the beloved “funky” atmosphere of not only the Bale of Hay but other aspects of Virginia City as a whole. It was moved to Nevada City in the mid-1970’s after Bale of Hay patrons threatened to silence it. Today the organ is in the Nevada City Music Hall where there is enough room to have the missing parts added to give the public the full sound of this magnificent instrument. Without the percussion (drums and cymbal) the organ is missing much of the music.

The music machines in the Nevada City Music Hall were collected by Charles Bovey and is one of the largest collections in the West, and is noted as the largest publicly owned and publicly displayed music and arcade machine collection in the United States. A New York Times article cited the Nevada City collection of Americana as the second largest in the United States, outside the Smithsonian. In 1997, the State of Montana committed 6.5 million dollars to purchase this important cultural resource, much of which had 20 years of deferred maintenance.

Completing this work on the Wurlitzer 150 band organ will give many people the opportunity to hear and see this unique band organ from a bygone era. This machine is an important part of the heritage tourism experience that benefits the entire community economically by drawing visitors from all over the world to Virginia and Nevada Cities.