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Michigan Theater’s Barton Pipe Organ – An American Legend

The very same Michigan Theater on Liberty Street here in Ann Arbor, where solar panels were recently installed, is known for its eclectic program of film offerings,including the Summer Documentary Series and a wide variety of indie films, which enrich the local culural scene. The theater’s Historic Auditorium is also known of the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra. The theater also hosts a series of children’s stage productions entitled “Not Just For Kids,” and a concert series entitled “The Legends of Rock & Roll.”

What makes the Historic Auditorium special is its crown jewel – a 1927 Barton theatre pipe organ. The Historic Auditorium was built during the days of silent film, when the action on the screen was accompanied by live music. The organ is one of 7,000 organs installed in American movie houses between 1915 and 1930. The Barton Organ Company (originally called the Bartola Musical Instrument Company) of Oshkosh, Wisconsin built 250 of those organs; the one at the Michigan Theater is one of only 40 movie house organs still in its original location. In its heyday, Barton was the fifth largest builder of theater instruments in the nation, and had over 150 employees. 

Originally, the organ was used to accompany silent films; at other times, it was used in combination with the theater’s 11-piece orchestra. When “talkies” arrived at the Michigan in 1929, the orchestra was released. The Barton organ has been fully restored, and has retained all of its original electropneumatic operating systems. No portion of it has been digitized. The instrument is professionally maintained and played daily prior to most film screenings, making it one of the most-heard theater organs in the country. A staff of five organists (including three professionals) perform on the fully-restored Barton. 

The Michigan Theater – like so many other historic landmarks in Ann Arbor – offers a wide array of musical, stage and screen events to satisfy nearly anyone’s personal cultural tastes. Likewise, Martin Bouma – your Ann Arbor neighborhood expert – can meet virtually all of your Ann Arbor real estate needs. Whether you’re buying or selling a home, the Bouma Group can answer any questions you have about real estate in Ann Arbor. Interested in Washtenaw County, or a specific Ann Arbor neighborhood? Call the Bouma Group today! And don’t forget to check out our Condo Hotline – we’ve got a handle on the Ann Arbor condominium market.

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