Me in front of Fatty Arbuckle's 1923 McFarlan Auto
To kick off the month of December and get into the Christmas spirit, a friend of mine invited my wife and I to the Nethercutt Museum for a special holiday themed organ concert. When I heard that the concert was to be performed on a Wurlitzer organ, an instrument one does not regularly get to hear, and that the amazing Rob Richards (probably most well known for being the house organist of Disney's El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood) was going to perform, I knew we had to go.
What I didn't know at the time was how amazing of a place the Nethercutt Museum is. I had never heard of this gem located just north of Los Angeles, in Sylmar, California. The main building of the museum is four floors containing antique automobiles (some previously owned by Hollywood greats such as Cecil B. Demille and Fatty Arbuckle), "Mechanical Musical Instruments," antique furniture, clocks and other items to tantalize the eye.
The most exclusive of the antique autos are housed in what looks like a grand ballroom with marble columns and floors, lighted by crystal chandeliers and covered by painted ceilings. The room seems rather appropriate for the classy cars of the 1910s, 20s, and 30s found in this room. Some of cars in this room include Maybach, Duesenbergs, Renault, early Cadillacs and so many other exotic brands that are no longer.
The Grand Salon
As you work your way through the Grand Salon and up the stairs to the next level, you pass large display cases containing a vast collection of hood ornaments. These ornaments are so spectacular that they look more like trophies, something perhaps that would be handed out at an award ceremony - not something you would have on the hood of your automobile.
Above the Grand Salon is a more cozy room with plush carpet and dark walls. All around the room are what are various mechanical musical instruments including self playing pianos, phonographs, cylinder music boxes, and what I thought were said to be European Orchestrations. These European Orchestrations are about the size of an average armoire and some are so large they cover an entire wall. Think of these like the 19th century version of a jukebox. These contraptions contain actual instruments built inside - drums, xylophones, piano, bells, violins, accordions, etc. - that will play music when turned on. Apparently these were popular in hotels and dance halls in Europe as they could mimic a full orchestra without needing all the musicians.
Stairs leading to the Mezzanine Level
Looking down at the Grand Salon
Walking pass antiques and the hood ornament displays.
Carpet in the Music Room
Top of a European Orchestration
A European Orchestration
After checking out some of the cars, antiques, and mechanical musical instruments, my wife, friend Dave and I took our seats for the organ concert. Rob Richards performed on the museum's restored Wurlitzer organ, accompanied by Alex Zsolt on piano. The two played mainly Christmas tunes - some popular and some a little obscure. Between songs Richards and Zsolt really hammed it up for the audience as they explained the songs, cracking jokes like true entertainers.
In addition to the holiday music Richards and Zsolt played a few other tunes to show off the splendor of the Wurlitzer. As a special treat for Disney fans, Richards performed the music from the 1978 Disney animated short, The Small One. The website DisneyShorts.org has the following synopsis for The Small One: "A young boy must sell his undersized donkey to raise money for food. But instead of being sold to the local merchants, the donkey is destined for a very special passenger on a very special journey." That special journey was the journey of Mary and Joseph. I vaguely recall seeing this short when I was a kid but I would not have seen it since. The short was directed by legendary Don Bluth and according to the book "Disney A to Z," by Dave Smith, "this was the first Disney production created exclusively by the new generation of animators at the studio, except for 'old timer' directing animator Cliff Nordberg, to prove their ability to create a success."
Up out of the trap door floor came the organ, but the massive amount of pipes of all sizes, of which there are over 1,500, were located behind the walls. There were two walls that were see through so you could get a glimpse of the stunning pipes.
One view of the organ pipes.
Looking into the Dining Room
Cecil B. Demille's Car
Fatty Arbuckle Car
Me checking out the dashboard.
I saw some of the museum by attending the holiday concert, but you can visit the museum most anytime and tour the exhibits. Check out the museum site here. The collection has become so large they had to expand to another building. I plan to go back to see the rest of the exhibits.
And if you haven't had the opportunity to see Rob Richards perform on a Mighty Wurlitzer Organ you can usually catch him by seeing a movie at Disney's El Capitan Theatre. Richards often performs on the theatre's Wurlitzer before the feature - Disney songs of course.