By KAREN LUNDE
Back in the mid-1920s, the Liberty Theatre, a vaudeville house, contained a Wurlitzer 2/9 theater pipe organ. After a renovation in 1948, the Liberty became the Olympic Theater. In the 1980s, it was completely rebuilt and evolved into The Washington Center for the Performing Arts. Throughout the building’s evolution, the mighty Wurlitzer has remained. The organ is now considered one of the Northwest’s premier instruments.
Although the Andy Crow Wurlitzer (named for one of its primary caretakers and champions) has been moved, stored and even extensively damaged in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, it’s still lovingly cared for by The Washington Center. The facility’s board of directors established an endowment for the organ’s maintenance and preservation in 1999.
In June, organist Sharon Stearnes will take the Wurlitzer out for a spin in a free, family-friendly concert. Stearnes has sat at the organ’s massive console numerous times.
“I believe my first concert at The Washington Center was January of 2016,” Stearnes said. “I play one or two free concerts a year there.”
Stearnes has had the opportunity to play a dedication concert. She also played a memorial service for Andy Crow, mentioning Crow was“a mentor of mine as a newbie to theater organs in my early days of performing. It’s not every day that you need to intersperse bird tweets, train whistles and ahooga horns into your music, so he was a huge help with that.”
Stearnes began playing the organ when she was in fourth grade and her parents bought the family a little Hammond organ for Christmas. “I was the youngest of six kids, so I didn’t get to play it often,” she said. “When my older siblings finally got bored with it, I hopped on the bench and never got off.”
She describes herself as an “organ nerd” who spent hours each day playing. At age 19, she started performing at Tacoma Pizza and Pipes. A year later, she became the organist for the Seattle Mariners and the Bellevue and Seattle Pizza and Pipes restaurants.
Stearnes says she prefers to keep her concerts free-form. She likes to “judge the audience,” she says, “and get a feel for whether they’re more of the Led Zeppelin type or the Bach type.” There’s something for everyone at her shows. “I always do a little of everything,” she said: “old, new, classical, show tunes, Disney … and definitely sing-alongs.”
7 p.m. Thursday, June 6
The Washington Center for the Performing Arts,
512 Washington St. SE, Olympia