Orchestrion Shares its Past at Disneyland’s Re-Imagined Penny Arcade

| May 25, 2012 | 1 Reply

This has been the summer of the Main Street USA refurbishments.  I told you about the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor’s makeover, but I want to ensure that we don’t overlook the changes next door – at the  Penny Arcade!  This area has received a new layout, a fresh coat of sparkling beauty, and had a favorite piece refurbished – the arcade’s original Concert Orchestrion.   Let me give you the tour of this wonderful area!




I do realize that over the years, the Penny Arcade has gotten smaller.  More of the coin-operated wonders have gone the way of history, as more and more merchandise and snacks have encroached on their territory.  This image of the most famous (and fortuitous) ESMERALDA really shows the old arcade layout. The coin-operated machines were featured prevalently in the front of the area.  The rear was left to hide the atmosphere-inducing Concert Orchestrion behind themed towers of sweets.  (This was a crying shame, if you ask me, but you didn’t, so I’ll move on…)



This recent image shows the entrance after the refurbishment.  ESMERALDA is still the host of the arcade, but the tall fixtures have been removed and the beautifully restored Orchestrion is clearly visible from the entrance!



Despite the fact that there are fewer of them, I like the way they have interspersed the remaining arcade machines in with the merchandise shelving.



As you can see below,the traffic flow is greatly improved and the central registers have been made more “serviceable”, by being turned into a place to feature fudges and cupcakes from the Candy Palace.



Even the arcade’s entrance to the Gibson Girl has been spruced up, with a better traffic flow.



The back walls have turned into displays that celebrate the boardwalk and carnival feel of a true arcade.  This moving ferris wheel display is indicative of the atmosphere change.



It allows the traffic to flow through the Arcade more freely – especially since the back to the shop is not designed to really capture the carnival atmosphere and focus on the arcade’s second most legendary piece: the Welte, Style 4 Concert Orchestrion.



As the plaque on the right side states, the German Orchestrion was built in 1907 and purchased by Walt in 1953, and placed in the Penny Arcade for the 1955 opening of the park.  Disney has stated that the Main Street Arcade Orchestrion hadn’t been refurbished since 1974  and it has now been restored as close as possible to its original state, since it still has its original pipes .  Disney’s team of electromechanical magicians have even made it possible for it to play its original music rolls for the first time in many years!


The plaque also tells us the Concert Orchestrion has 265 pipes, a bass drum and snare drum, a timpani, a triangle, and a cymbal and plays Welte 75 key music.  For those of us that don’t speak that language, this means that it is playing the original style of single-tune music rolls that it was meant to play.  These rolls trigger the instruments to perform their roles in the song – akin to a live orchestra.   The movement of the internal instruments is absolutely fascinating.  My family and I stood there for quite a while as my husband explained all of the different instruments to our youngest daughter, who was quite curious about them!



Previously, the Orchestrion had played nickelodeon G rolls (which were coin activated and played multiple tunes on the same roll) but never worked correctly.  It then had a MIDI player attached (without harming the restoration), that allowed one to pay for select songs from a touch screen.    Because they weren’t designed for the Welte, they weren’t exactly the quality that the instrument now has after restoration.  If you have ever heard it play before and are now hearing the restored instrument, you will automatically know something is different.   (I found it absolutely amazing the information you uncover when you start researching something like this!)



The best part about the Penny Arcade and the Orchestrion: the music plays every 7 minutes and is absolutely FREE!  That means you should take some time out, get your fortune, get a snack, and simply enjoy the sounds of a simpler time!


Photos by N. Johnson, W. Toigo, and MJ Willey.

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Category: Disneyland, News

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Disneyland Podcaster for the DIS Unplugged