Original Location: New York area
George Messig, who had a piano business dating back to the 1880s, was a piano tuner and technician located in Brooklyn, New York. It is fairly certain that he knew of the PianOrchestra due to his normal business activities, servicing the PianOrchestra while in its original commercial location, which is said to have been in a dance pavilion on Coney Island. It is unlikely that it was in still in use when Mr. Messig acquired it, whereupon he dismantled the machine, wrapping some of the parts in newspapers, which were dated 1931. When restoration was commenced by Messrs. Joe Hanulec and Walter Kehoe in 1981, many parts were still wrapped in the 1931 newspapers. George Messig stored the machine completely disassembled in a lean-to shed at his home. The dirt floor and leaking shed roof took its toll, with wood rot damaging many parts of the case. All the art glass and beveled mirrors survived the shed and subsequent moves without being significantly damaged. The decorative self-playing birdcage placed in the center niche was stored indoors and did not suffer from neglect as badly.
George Messig passed away sometime prior to 1968, the year his family sold off his business assets, along with the Wurlitzer PianOrchestra. At the estate sale, John Ford of "Ford's Piano Supply" purchased the Wurlitzer orchestrion.
John Ford, the owner of "Ford's Piano Supply," located at 4898 Broadway in New York City, purchased the PianOrchestra from George Messig's estate sale in 1968. John Ford had known George Messig personally, acquiring other memorabilia relating to automatic music at the sale. Reportedly, Mr. Ford wanted to set the PianOrchestra up in his home, but it did not have a sufficiently high ceiling. He never reassembled or attempted to restore the PianOrchestra, possibly due to its poor overall condition, although he had both the room and facility at his place of business to do so. John Ford never saw the restored machine, although he was invited to do so.
As an interesting side note, John Ford related that George Messig at one time rebuilt upright pianos for $125. This price included moving the piano to his shop, refinishing the exterior, installing new ivories, new whippens, butts, shanks, and hammers, plus two tunings and, then, moving the piano back to the owner's location.
In 1970 Walter Kehoe and Phil Crouteau purchased the instrument from John Ford. Phil Crouteau was in the business of tuning and restoring pipe organs, Walter Kehoe working with him part time. The PianOrchestra was thought to be complete when bought from Mr. Ford, even though it was a "big grab bag of pieces" and there was no guarantee that all the parts were there. It was later discovered that many parts were missing. A large group of people had attended the Messig estate sale, with many loose and separated PianOrchestra components being carelessly sold off to individual buyers. So, the hunt for the missing PianOrchestra pieces began, with Walter Kehoe attending as many "Music Box Society" meetings as possible, trying to find out who had attended the George Messig sale. He tracked down many of parts original to the style 33-A PianOrchestra, and eventually all the missing parts needed except one, the pneumatic lock & cancel register unit. It was a critical part, controlling precisely what musical effects were to play, the loud and soft expression and all the trapwork effects. No register unit was ever found.
Joe Hanulec of Shoreham, Long Island, New York, became a partner with Walter Kehoe in the PianOrchestra project in 1974. Both Joe Hanulec and his wife, Judy, had their own restoration business called the "Pitch and Time Shoppe," which, in addition to the larger pneumatic instruments, specialized in repairing music boxes and clocks. Joe Hanulec had been commissioned to rebuild a Welte player grand belonging to Phil Crouteau, which led to Joe Hanulec meeting Walter Kehoe. Before the Welte restoration was complete Phil Crouteau died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving Joe Hanulec the opportunity to become half owner in the Wurlitzer style 33-A PianOrchestra.
The restoration work commenced in earnest during 1981. Walter Kehoe and Joe Hanulec did ninety-nine percent of the restoration work; devoting one day of almost every weekend for ten years, with some large breaks for certain domestic requirements. One major delay was the conversion of Joe Hanulec's attached garage into a room that was large enough to suitably house the assembled PianOrchestra.
The original piano action was disassembled, cleaned, and carefully refitted with new felt bushings, butts, and hammers. Another challenge was the ranks of wooden pipes that needed to be reassembled. This was a test of patience and endurance. There were over 700 pieces that had to be sorted out and carefully glued back together. How the puzzle of pieces had to fit together was a judgment call, determined by old glue patterns and eyeballing the size of the many similar looking wooden parts. All the pipes are original except for the 15 that were missing, and that have since been replaced with new ones.
Since the lock and cancel register unit was missing, another similar unit was located in California. It belonged to a Wurlitzer style 32 Concert PianOrchestra in the Jerry Cohen collection, Studio City, California. Jerry's collection suffered an unfortunate and devastating fire in 1979, badly damaging the style 32 PianOrchestra. Jerry Cohen gave permission to photocopy and make drawings of the damaged, but basically intact register unit. The replacement register control unit for the 33-A PianOrchestra was duplicated from scratch, with over 300, oftentimes intricate, pieces that had to be carefully crafted.
The roll changer was missing, so a loose Philipps three-roll revolver mechanism was bought from Terry Hathaway circa 1974. Then, in 1986, just prior to fitting the little three-roll changer into the PianOrchestra, Joe Hanulec received a call from a friend, Fran Meyer, who worked for William (Bill) Edgerton's Mechanical Music Center, located in Darien, Connecticut. Fran informed Joe that they had recently purchased the remains of a piano technician's shop, which included the kind of Philipps six-roll changer that was needed for the PianOrchestra.
The xylophone was found in New Jersey, and the birdcage belonged to a collector located in Cobbleskill, New York. Despite the collector being a close friend of Joe Hanulec, and a former Long Islander, too, it took 15 years before Joe Hanulec was able to talk his friend into selling the birdcage. In late 1991, just in time for the East Coast Musical Box Society Chapter meeting in January of 1992, the birdcage finally became part of the PianOrchestra once again. More recently, the birdcage was restored, with the metal cage itself gold plated, the birds re-feathered and the base gilded. This total restoration of the bird cage was done by Jere Ryder of Automusique, Summit, New Jersey.
Written by Terry Hathaway, with information provided by Joe Hanulec and Walter Kehoe.
Circa 1912 Wurlitzer catalogue; Joe Hanulec; Walter Kehoe and Vincent Morgan.
"Marvels of the Nineteenth Century," a video by Christian and Sharon Bailly, using some style 33-A PianOrchestra music as background.