Van Nuys, California, ca. 1915–1917.
Succeeded Johnston Organ & Piano Manufacturing Co.; established in Van Nuys, California, 1915; acquired by American Photo-Player Co. of Berkeley, California, and renamed Robert-Morton Co., 1917.
The California Organ Co. has a tangled history. Most of its production staff were from the second Murray Harris firm of Los Angeles, California which Harris re-established in 1906. Harris had relocated to Van Nuys, California in 1912, lured there by an offer from Suburban Homes, a real estate developer. The developer was looking for businesses to attract workers who would then purchase homes from the developer. Although Harris made the move, he left the business immediately after arrival because of financial problems. E.S. Johnson purchased majority interest and operated the firm as Johnston Organ & Piano Manufacturing Company with the same core of craftsmen from Harris. Suburban Homes supported the company initially with generous capital contributions but grew tired of the lax financial practices of the firm. In 1914 the developers took over and promptly turned their interest over to Title Insurance and Trust Company of Los Angeles, holders of the mortgage on the factory building.3 As the owners' interest was in real estate and not pipe organs, they immediately sought a buyer for their unwanted asset. The following year, the company name was changed to California Organ Co.
Harold J. Werner was the president of American Photo Player Co. of Berkeley, California. Photo Player made small stock model theater organs of two to five ranks, and had sales offices in Chicago, Illinois and New York City, New York. Werner noted the growth of the "palace" type theaters seating over a thousand patrons; these huge spaces required far larger organs than anything Photo Player could build in its factory. Werner began a search for a larger production facility; his top sales man, Henry "Cocky" Charles, discovered the plant at Van Nuys. Werner investigated, and began negotiations. It seemed an ideal match; the only impediment was Edwin A. Spencer, the foreman at California. Spencer had started with Harris, and he had no interest in building theater organs. The deal was struck while Spencer was out of town for an installation. Spencer was transferred to American Pipe Organ Company in Berkeley, California, a small subsidiary of Photo Player. Head voicer Stanley W. Williams reluctantly took over the design and manufacture of theater organs for his new employer at the Van Nuys facility. The Van Nuys plant underwent another name change, becoming Robert-Morton Co. The new joint company had two manufacturing locations: Photo-Player continued to build smaller theater organs in Berkeley while the Van Nuys plant built the larger instruments under the Robert-Morton name.
There are 23 entries in the database that describe organs by California Organ Co.
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