When the Grand theater first opened on October 4, 1924 "talkies" were still 3 years away from being introduced to the public. In 1927, a fledging movie studio in Hollywood, Warner Brothers, released the monumental technical innovation that most people now take for granted - talking movies! The film was "The Jazz Singer" and actor Al Jolson's words still ring today around the world: "Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothin' yet!". 1929 would be the year that the marvelous innovation of talking motion pictures would come to the Upper Perkiomen Valley, and the Grand theater!
In the 1920's, almost every town in the United States had a Movie House. It was the 1920's that ushered in the famous Motion Picture Palaces of 4,000, 5,000, even over 6,000 seats! But even small towns in rural communities such as East Greenville had their own Town Movie Palaces. Once over 5,000 existed, now less than 200 single screen theaters exist in the U.S.
Since talking film was not yet invented, the audience demanded that something accompany the show. In the teens, many midsize to large theaters had live orchestras provide sound and effects for the silent films. Having to keep a full orchestra on the payroll was quite an expense to theater owners.
Theater organs were introduced to essentially replace the orchestra. Often referred to as a "one man orchestra", one person could reproduce the sounds of an entire 18 person or larger orchestra - quite a savings for the theater owner!
The 1920's were the heyday of the theater organ. Not to be confused with a church pipe organ, the theater organ is vastly different. Church organs are meant to provide backup of choirs or soft meditation music. Theater organs provide the action, the emotion, and the special effects, and are equally as vital as the show on the screen. Much like today's digital theater surround-sound systems, sound was vital back in the era of the silent film!
These theater organs were used for pre-show music, intermission, and exit music for the audience. Some theaters, such as New York’s Roxy Theater, even had a separate organ just for the lobby entertainment! (Yes, the Roxy’s lobby was BIGGER than the entire Grand!)
However, Warner Brothers’ innovation of a talking film rapidly changed the movie business and the public expected and demanded this new innovation. Thousands of movie theaters across the US placed orders for Vitaphones to convert their theaters to play talkies. The days of the theater organ were numbered. When the Stock Market Crash of 1929 hit and ushered in the Great Depression, already struggling theater organ manufacturers rapidly folded. These marvels of electro-pneumatic innovation were often thrown out to become landfill, along with the beautiful theaters that once housed them.