Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pulling Out All the Stops: Organ Stop Pizza

Giddiness is probably the least attractive posture a fully-grown man could take.  When faced with the world's-largest Wurlitzer theater organ, however, there really is no other posture to assume.  Southern California is a veritable hotbed of wacky tacky - thriving in spite of a culture of looking "cool" at all costs;  never having been cool, I am blissfully free of the burden of maintaing a "cool" reputation.  That, combined with the fact that we were in Arizona, left me free to be a giddy as a schoolgirl over the thundering sound of the world's largest Wurlitzer theater organ (insert world's largest organ joke).

Capital G-i-double d-y!

The only place to get this excited over the world's largest Wurlitzer theater organ is at its home, Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa, AZ.  Organ Stop Pizza began its life in Phoenix in 1972.  The brainchild of  William P. Brown, who was intent on combining his love of pizza with his love of theater organ, Organ Stop Pizza quickly outgrew its first two locations.  Proving that wacky tacky can be found in any era, OSP broke ground and opened the doors to its current location in 1995.  The facade of its permanent residence is nothing to write home about.  In fact, it is decidedly un-wacky tacky, but once inside the Mesa eatery/organ spectacular, the building itself is reduced to inconsequential background noise.

This is it!  The glowing void in the middle of the picture is the place where the organ console and organist are hydraulically lifted from the ground to perform everything from cinematic masterpieces to polkas to national anthems.  I had to pause a moment when I recognized one of the tunes as "Oh, Canada," the Canadian national
anthem.  I quickly remembered that much of Arizona's seasonal populace is made up of Canadian "snowbirds."

The afternoon's feature organist
OSP has multiple organists on a rotating schedule;
I kind of wanted to stay and hear them all.

I tried to upload my videos so I could share them with you, but apparently, YouTube has incredibly sensitive filters and muted all of my videos, citing copyright infringement.  Really?!?!?!  How does everyone else on YouTube upload EVERY SINGLE SONG in the entire world with no problem?  I am really bad at computers, so after a few tries, I gave up in frustration.  Let me tell you, the descent from overwhelming giddiness to bitter frustration is not nearly as long a fall as one might imagine.  Nevertheless, there exist some videos of the OSP organ in action (although how they managed to get by the YouTube censor bureau, I will never know).

"Chattanooga Choo Choo"
Maybe "Chattanooga Choo Choo" is in the public domain???
The sound quality isn't spectacular but you can definitely
 get a sense of the organ's instrumental capabilities.

Petty, internet-related frustrations aside, I can't quite fully explain the level of elation one is capable of achieving when two of the world's most perfect offerings come together - organ music and pizza (plus a fully-loaded salad bar)!  It is wacky tacky nirvana.  Much credit is due the sensational musicians that lend their talents to the Organ Stop Pizza.  But how can we overlook the real star of the show here - the organ!

Look at that beautiful console!
Designed and built in the 1920's for the world-famous
Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, OSP's organ
is a total show-stopper before the first stop is even pulled out! 

Compartments loaded with thousands of pipes and clear,
 hinged dampers are controlled entirely by the organist.

Castanets, horns, tambourine, and the wacky tackiest of all instruments - the accordion!

A player piano, bongos, a conga drum, and just about
everything else for which one could wish.

A fanfare is imminent when a fan of horns is always poised at the ready.

"Stars and Stripes Forever"
Take that "Oh, Canada"....only joking, Canadians...
Oh yeah, did I mention that the organ console rotates
during the performance - IT ROTATES!!!

As is evidenced by the above video, dramatic points or particularly-
patriotic moments in a song change the room from relative darkness
 to a glittering spectacle of electric light.
Could an organ concert get any more incredible?  Well, maybe it can...

Once every set, the organist played a rousing, little ditty entitled "The Alleycat."

"The Alleycat" - Bent Fabric
Imagine this being played by the world's largest Wurlitzer theater organ.

Then imagine the thrill of the curtain rising to
reveal a chorus line of feline marionettes!!!

Organ Stop Pizza is more than theater in its most rarefied form; it is an interactive experience.  At the base of the organ platform, there are cards on which the audience members can fill in requests for tunes and notate special occasions that they are celebrating at the restaurant.  While the organist did not play our request (how awesome would it have been to hear The Munsters theme song played on the world's largest Wurlitzer organ), he did honor Mary's request to wish me a happy birthday.

"Happy Birthday Mr. Tiny"
Can you see how crestfallen he is when he realizes 
he's wishing the fat guy in the front row a happy birthday? 
Well, the joke's on you OSP, it wasn't really my birthday!!!

Citing the "If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all" rule, I can't say anything about Organ Stop Pizza's pizza.  Well, I guess I could...but I won't.  It really wouldn't matter what they served there - Organ Stop Hot Dogs, Organ Stop Sushi, Organ Stop Hamster - a rose by any other name would certainly sound as sweet.  We've been to the Spreckel's Organ in San Diego, CA.  We've heard the Avalon Theater's beautiful Page Organ accompany some of the finest films of the silent era.  Now we've been to Organ Stop pizza's mighty Wurlitzer.  The hunt is on for the world's best organs...just don't be surprised if you wake up tomorrow in a bathtub full of ice!

We loved it so much that we couldn't leave without a souvenir.
Organ Stop Pizza rigorously maintains the organ and often
 has to swap out spent pipes; we got a "D."

I truly can't recommend a visit to Organ Stop Pizza enough.  If you have even an ounce of wacky tacky spirit in the recesses of your doubtful mind and cold, cold heart, you will definitely get a thrill out of the mighty Wurlitzer and those crazy, dancing cats!

Organ Stop Pizza
1149 E Southern Ave
Mesa, AZ


Mr. Tiny


  1. W-O-W! See that man's fingers fly across the keys on the Chattanooga Choo Choo number! I'm glad that video made it through the draconian Youtube review process so that I could vicariously enjoy the world's largest Wurlitzer organ. That is simply amazing. I love that the pizza was unmentionable in quality. Why does that make the whole experience that much funnier? "Joke's on you, OSP, it really wasn't my birthday!" and "Organ Stop Hamster" made me actually laugh outloud. Well, time to go plan my trip to Arizona and brush up on my knowledge of Canadian national showtunes.

    1. Isn't it terrible that I was immediately offended by Canada's national anthem??? I got over it VERY quickly (LOVE YOU, Canada) and learned what a fierce patriot seethed within...Hahahahaha!!! If you are ever in Phoenix/Mesa, OSP is an absolute MUST! It wasn't my birthday and I'm not 27 - the joke just keeps going!

  2. oh wow! i'm giddy just reading about it! what an amazing pizza place! and the cat marionettes! ahhh! i feel like i would have screamed like a teenybopper when that curtain rose!

    1. It was life-changing. That may sound like an overstatement, but I'm ready to acknowledge that even small moments that bring massive amounts of joy can change my life for the better and OSP definitely did!

  3. Pizza AND theater organ? That's my idea of heaven.

    I have also had problems uploading song snippets to YouTube. I think once you're flagged, you can't do it anymore, alas. I've also wondered how some people get away with it.

    1. Finding these little bits of heaven on earth is our mission! You would be beside yourself with the greatness of that mighty Wurlitzer, I'm telling you! As far as youtube goes, I think I'm disappointed and hoping that I can find some alternative...until then, put on another organ record!

  4. What you forgot to mention is that the reason you cut recording half way Beer Barrel Polka is because we got up to dance!! You can't play a polka and not have the Wacky Tacky crew on their feet!!

    1. What can i say?!?!! We've just got happy feet and a love of polka!!!

  5. I remember filling out request cards with my friends as a kid at Organ Stop Pizza...and the pizza was never anything to write home about! Thank you for another fun trip down memory lane. :)

    1. I'm glad I can be an ambassador of nostalgia for you. I'm even more glad that Phoenix and the surrounding environs have maintained such a healthy amount of wacky tacky and Arizona history for us to enjoy! One more post and then our Phoenix fun will be over...for now.

  6. There used to be a chain of similar places in California, Oregon and Washington called "Pizza and Pipes." The big location in Redwood City had a salvaged theater organ similar to the one you saw in Mesa. The smaller location of Pizza and Pipes in Santa Clara had a much smaller organ that was built into the body of a fiberglass sports car. Since the Organ player was always some large old dude, it had the hilarious appearance of a shriner piloting one of those tiny parade cars, except that he was in there rocking out on the organ.

    1. Who knew that the combination of pizza and organ music was so ubiquitous?! Pizza and Pipes sounds amazing. I just looked it up and it seems that there is still a P&P in Redwood City!!! Sounds like it's time for another road trip!

  7. I would definitely make this a stop if I ever visited Arizona, and i I would like to, actually; they are BEAD HEAVEN.

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  9. The console is not from Grauman's Chinese theatre. That console is in the Stanford Theatre, Palo Alto CA. The console at Organ Stop Pizza is a NEW console built by Ken Crome of Reno Nevada, special for the pizza place.