Our Mission, Vision & Values

The Riviera Theatre and Organ Preservation Society, Inc. is dedicated to restoring, maintaining and utilizing the historic 1926 Riviera Theatre and its Mighty WurliTzer theatre organ, as a working historic theatre by offering a wide array of live musical performances, performing arts and educational opportunities.

The Riviera Theatre will be established as the premiere regional destination for live music, performing arts, while being preserved as a historic landmark with the most well-maintained, and regularly performing, WurliTzer organ in the nation. To that end, the community of the RTOPS, Inc. recognizes the importance of necessary expansion to increase the amenities that modern audiences desire and deserve.

Volunteerism: We could not exist without our dedicated community of volunteers. Historic Significance: We showcase the importance of our National Historic Landmark Theatre and organ to all communities. Outstanding Service: Our patrons are always the foremost priority. Collaboration: We listen to, respect and value everyone’s input and ideas.

History

Billed as the “Showplace of the Tonawandas”, the Riviera Theatre was built during the year 1926, by the Yellen Family. The architects Leon H. Lempart and Son drew the plans, which were patterned after the Italian Renaissance. The interior artwork was painted at the Rochester Studio of Willard M. Lusk, by Ferdinand Kebely.

Opening night, Thursday, December 30, 1926 of the new ‘TWIN CITIES RIVERA’ (as it was spelled then) was a ‘gala event’ in the Tonawandas. Advance reservations for opening night cost $1.00. Present on this special evening, were the Mayors of both Tonawandas. From the stage, Mayor James P. Mackenzie of North Tonawanda, praised the President of the Ownership Corporation of the Theatre, Henry Henshel, and the Theatre’s Manager, James J. Kelly.Messages of Congratulation of the Grand Opening were received from Governor Alfred E. Smith, and famous movie producer Cecil B. Demille.

Featured on the screen, were the movies “Upstage” starring Norma Shearer, “The Mona Lisa”, in Technicolor, a short comedy, and the newsreel. Organist Fred Meyer accompanied the films and soloed at the Mighty Wurlitzer. The stage featured vaudeville and musical events, as well…

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THE MIGHTY WURLITZER

The Mighty WurliTzer Theatre Organ to be installed in the new ‘Rivera’ Theatre, Opus 1524, was shipped from the Wurlitzer Factory on November 19, 1926. This instrument was used by the WurliTzer company as an official demonstrator model to have prospective customers hear how one of their organs would sound in a theatre of this size. With over 3,000 individual pipes, this model literally has all of the bells and whistles! Used primarily to accompany silent films in the late-20’s, the world-renowned instrument has provided more entertainment consistently in its original setting than most other theatre organs, nationwide. Many top name artists, in this country, have performed here in hundreds of concerts over the past 35 years. The Riviera’s organ has even been acclaimed internationally by artist appearances from Europe, Australia, Britain and South America. Several popular organists played their ‘first’ public concert at the Riviera Theatre. The organ has been televised on several occasions, and several commercial recordings have been made on it. Indeed the Riviera organ is well known here and abroad.

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