Barton Organ History

The Barton Theatre Pipe Organ is the Historic Auditorium’s original organ, and was installed in 1927. Designed to accompany silent movies and vaudeville, the ‘orchestral’ organ, as it was described, was one of 7,000 installed in American movie palaces between 1915 and 1930. Here it is shown with the original theater organist, Bob Howland.

With the coming of the ‘talkies’ and the Great Depression, most instruments fell silent or, worse yet, found themselves without a home. However, the Michigan’s organ lasted, receiving a full restoration in 1971. Henry Aldridge is at the keyboard.

However, in the late 1970s, the Michigan’s organ nearly became a historical footnote. Aldridge and fellow organists Rupert Otto and Newton Bates worked tirelessly to save the organ and the theater that housed it from what many believed was certain demolition.

Today, the Barton Organ is played Thursday through Monday for all evening movies and also by special request for rental events. Requests are welcome!