Wurlitzer opus 490 was installed in the Virginia Theatre shortly before opening on December 28, 1921. Originally a Style 185 2/7, it was upgraded in June 1924 to a Style 185 Special with the addition of the 8' Tibia Clausa extension. A 16' relay addition was made in 1928. During the 1990's, various minor additions have been made, including the addition of effects such as duck call, surf, and jazz/tap cymbal.
Installed during the original construction, the local papers reported its cost as $50,000. No other records exist of its actual cost and according to comparisons of installations around the country, this was probably an exaggeration. The two manual, eight rank Wurlitzer Hope-Jones orchestral organ remains in great working condition.
The first staff organist was George May. David Junchen worked on this organ beginning in October 1963 while an Electrical Engineering student at the University of Illinois, bringing it to life after 18 years. The organ again fell silent after Junchen's graduation but was reawakened 20 years later by Warren York and a varying crew of volunteers. A special variety show on May 5, 1991 sold out the theatre and featured the organ prominently. The audience enjoyed The Chorale singing the music of Stephen Foster, a sing-along using historic glass slides from the theatre's extensive collection, and a demonstration of the Wurlitzer. On December 31, 1991, a near-capacity audience attended the first annual News Year's Eve variety show, which followed closely the format of the May 5 program.
Of the two organ chambers, only the stage left chamber houses pipe work. The stage right chamber remains vacant. At the time of recording the original Tuba Horn rank was not installed on the organ due to water damage and other problems. It has been replaced with a Wurlitzer Tuba Horn from our MasterWorks 331 theatre organ virtual instrument.
The two manual, eight rank Wurlitzer Hope-Jones orchestral organ was overhauled by John-Paul Buzard Pipe Organ Builders in 2012 and currently remains in great playing condition.