Des Moines, Iowa, early 1900s.
Des Moines, Iowa 1900s. Organ department acquired by H. J. Milliman, c. 1925.
A. H. Blank Theatrical Enterprises was a theater chain based in Des Moines, Iowa in the early 1900s. The organ department of the theater chain was acquired by H. J. Milliman, c. 1925.
Abraham Harry (A.H.) Blank was a businessman and philanthropist who owned and operated several large, elaborate theaters in Iowa and neighboring states: the Star Theater in Des Moines, the Casino Theater in Charles City, Iowa, and the second Casino Theater in Davenport. The five-story Star Theater had been a fraternal hall, Blank spent approximately $50,000 converting it to a movie palace.1 [Equivalent to $1.3 million in 2015 dollars. –Ed.] By 1921, Blank also owned the Brandeis theater in Omaha, Nebraska.2
Blank was born in Galatz, Romania, in 1879 and came with his family to Council Bluffs, Iowa. His father ran a fruit business, but A.H. had greater ambitions. He came to Des Moines as a young man, bought a movie projector for a few hundred dollars, rented space in a small downtown store with room for 25 people, and set up a screen. He showed 10-minute films for a nickel to commuters as they waited for trolley cars.
Critics thought the enterprise was doomed from the start, but it began a vision that bought the family substantial wealth. Abraham Blank built theaters in Davenport, Omaha, Cedar Rapids, Newton, and Waterloo. The movie houses were among the first to provide organ music for silent films. By the mid-1920s, his Central States Theater Corp. made him one of the largest private owners of movie theaters in the nation.3
Blank's theater chains used only Wurlitzer organs. Blank's Capitol Theatre in Cedar Rapids is now the Paramount Theatre for the Performing Arts. It still contains the original 11-rank Wurlitzer installed there in 1928.4 As the owner of a large theater chain, Blank employed his own organ technicians to tune and keep the instruments in good repair. These technicians would have to be familiar with the "toy counter", the percussion and special sound effects section of the theater organ, a skill unlikely to be possessed by firms accustomed to work on church organs. Moreover for a silent film, the loss of the organ meant the film was truly silent, a piano could not fill the larger halls with adequate sound, and lacked the effects needed to embellish the film. Despite the advantages of an in-house organ shop, Blank sold the organ department to Harry J. Milliman of Omaha in 1925. Perhaps the shrewd businessman foresaw that the talkies would soon make the theater organ if not obsolete, at least no longer an indispensable requirement; or perhaps this was an early example of outsourcing. Whatever the reason, W.H. Blank Theatrical Enterprises was no longer in the organ business.
There are no entries in the database that describe organs by A. H. Blank Theatrical Enterprises.
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