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Restoring a Piece of Disneyland History: The Main Street Arcade Orchestrion

Erin Glover

by , Editorial Content Director, Disneyland Resort

In the course of the exciting work being done on Main Street, U.S.A., at Disneyland park, a piece of Disneyland history was opened up yet again.

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Fans of the Main Street Arcade are familiar with its Welte Orchestrion – the large self-playing pipe organ that has entertained guests for decades. While the arcade is closed as part of the current Main Street, U.S.A., refurbishments, the Disneyland Electromechanical team is taking the opportunity to perform maintenance on this impressive instrument – which is older than the park itself. But you might be surprised at what is found inside …

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Since 1945 – thirty years after the instrument was first built – those working to repair and restore the Orchestrion have signed their names to an interior panel, and the tradition has continued to this day. Dave Allan, an electromechanical technician at the Disneyland Arcade Shop (which cares for all of the resort’s electromechanical devices – from coin-operated machinery and popcorn carts to park turnstiles and FASTPASS machines) first came to work at Disneyland more than 35 years ago to work on the Orchestrion. He first signed is name to the instrument in 1974, as you can see in the photo above.

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I visited Dave and his colleagues Ken Knibb, Joel Viado and Jeff Garcia late last year at the Disneyland Arcade Shop for the rare opportunity to see this giant machine being cared for by these talented technicians. Though it has been through maintenance before, those times have been surprisingly rare.

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“It probably won’t be opened again for another 30 years,” Ken told me. The instrument still has it original acoustics and pipes, but the team is working to restore it to as close as possible to original condition while still being able to be enjoyed by guests daily upon its return to the Main Street Arcade. When it does return, it will feature more of the original music that it was first designed to play.

Be sure to check out the Welte Orchestrion when it returns in its full glory to the Main Street Arcade later this spring. And I’ll be back soon with an update on this amazing piece of Disneyland history when Dave, Ken and the Disneyland Electromechanical team are all finished with it – for the next 30 years, at least.

Comments

  • I can’t wait for this to come back!. I wish the once behind Dumbo still played.

  • Also, the instrument isn’t in that bad of shape, so it shouldn’t be too hard.

  • THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!!
    I am so glad Disney is taking an interest in these machines again like when Walt Disney was originally in charge, it’s a real shame that the new owner today wasn’t in charge about 14 years ago. That was when most of these instruments were sold, including band organs, orchestrions, nickelodeons, dance organs, and music boxes too. There was (pre 1998) a Wurlitzer Pian Orchestra in the arcade, but that was sold too. This instrument was actually restored in 1998 and sounded GREAT! Until a new midi selector was put in which was not made for the instrument. trust me, this instrument will sound MIND BLOWING when the restoration is done! Just take the tip that the tune selector is not made for the instrument!

  • I love this post! Thanks for sharing it!

  • I love learning about the small treasures and the talented and creative teams behind them. The love and passion that goes into disney is amazing. Thank you

  • Very cool!

    I love that pipe organ!

  • I wish the arcade would make a return. It was one of my favorite things to see on main street at a kid.

  • I used to work for a company that builds pipe organs. Signing the inside, either as a builder or repairer is an industry tradition that I’m glad to see upheld at Disneyland (a place of great tradition). Pipe organ construction tends to be intended for very long term use. I know the company I worked for planned for a 150-200 year life span for their products.

    What an interesting article, thanks for posting it!

  • Great story! I’ve always been fascinated by these automated music machines at the Disney parks. Many have faded away over the years but it’s great to see that some remain and that they are in good hands. The Walt Disney Company bought a collection of dozens of automated music machines from Paul Eakin in the 1970s. Much of the collection was sold in 1997 but many pieces remain in Disney Parks around the world.

  • Do you have a date when the orchestrion will be up and running again?

  • I love this pipe organ…I plop in a quarter every time I visit the park and play the Mickey Mouse March…everyone recognizes it and stops to listen and watch…thanks for your great work in keeping it so well preserved! Can’t wait to see all the work finished on Main Street!

  • How nice was this! Thank you for sharing this story. What a talented group you have in maintenance.

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