History of Empire State Theatre & Musical Instrument Museum
The Start of the Empire State
Theatre & Musical Instrument Museum
Letter from Bernard Potter, Director of the New York State Fair, April 29, 1971:
“To the directors and friends of the Empire State Theatre and Musical Instrument Museum
As I mentioned at the Annual Meeting, a formal contract between the State Fair and the Museum has been approved by the comptroller. This has long been considered good business for both parties.
Also, a memorandum has been prepared and is outlined below. Its purpose is to informally define the relationship between the museum and the Fair. A portion of this was written by Mr. Creal in 1967 and we have added to it, hoping that it would be complete.
The administration of the Fair, while unable to participate directly in week-by-week activities of the theatre organ group, does hold the greatest appreciation for the services which this group has rendered. This has been a key to the success of the museum to this point. As you know, those who came to hear the program last Sunday overflowed the auditorium.
Growth is great but it also brings new problems, which our organization will meet. The Industrial Exhibit Authority has every confidence that there will be an operating Musical Museum building on the State Fairgrounds. We have met stumbling blocks in its formation; however, we are not discouraged.
The combination of (1) the programs, (2) the operating museum, and (3) the working together of technicians in the act of preserving and restoring instruments, has been a real milestone in the activities of the New York State Fair. The Fair has bettered the efforts of these many people.
I would ask and hope that each of us re-examines the program so that it will continue to expand, based on the foundation upon which it was established. If each of us does a little, it will mean that the New York State Fair as a cultural center will develop beyond any of our fondest expectations at this time.
Bernard W. Potter
New York State Fair Director
The Addition of A Musical Museum
The Fair conducts an annual program of 12 days, consisting of exhibits, competitions, and entertainment. This is a broad program involving agriculture, labor, industry, youth, art and home, education and interfaith religious program, Witter Agriculture Museum, The Indian Village, sports, and many more activities.
Early in 1966, an opportunity was offered to the Fair to add a Musical Museum to its program. The Museum was in the process of acquiring one of the last remaining Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organs from B.F. RKO Keiths Theatre in Syracuse was looking for a suitable location in which to install it.
After the approval by the State Fair Advisory Committee and the Women’s Advisory Committee, the State Fair management offered the auditorium of the Harriet May Mills Building to the museum officers as a location in which to install and display the Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ. This location was accepted by museum officers and during the Fall and Winter of 1966-67, the organ was moved, rehabilitated, and installed in this auditorium.
During this time, no definite agreements of operation were ever written down. However, many discussions were held between the members of the Fair and the Museum. Mutual advantages and values to each organization were clearly apparent. The Fair auditorium provided excellent facilities for the Wurlitzer organ, other rooms in the building could be available for an expanding Musical Museum, the Fairgrounds location is handy and has adequate parking room, and heat, light and power are available. The Museum would be a substantial asset to the Fair at the time of the annual exhibition and would provide a major and interesting addition to the program of year around use of the State Fairgrounds. Like the Witter Museum, Van Wagenen Hall, and the Indian Village, it would add another fine group of people to the expanding list of those who use and support the Fair.
Since members of organizations change with the years, it is now felt that working relationships should be in some measure defined; realizing; however, for each group to realize the greatest advantage a truly cooperative relationship must be maintained.
Agreements Were Reached
A Portion of the 1971 Memo with the NYS Fair
On April 29, 1971, Bernard W. Potter, Director of the NYS Fair, prepared a memorandum whose purpose was to “define the operating relationship between the Empire State Theatre and Musical Instrument Museum and the New York State Fair.” Further, in that memo, Mr. Potter wrote, “The Museum would be a substantial asset to the Fair at the time of the annual exhibition, and would provide a major and interesting addition to the program of year around use of the State Fairgrounds. Like the Witter Museum, Van Wagenen Hall, the Indian Village, it would add another fine group of people to the expanding list of those who use and support the Fair.” The memo concludes with the following:
“Since members of organizations change with the years, it is now felt that working relationships should be in some measure defined; realizing, however, that for each group to realize the greatest advantage a truly cooperative relationship must be maintained.
The Following are general agreements:
- The Fair will furnish space, together with heat, light, and power.
- Ownership of the Wurlitzer organ and museum pieces secured by the Museum would remain with the Museum.
- Management of the Museum to be by the Museum officers, except during the New York State Fair, when management would be by the Director of the Art and Home Center.
- The Director of the New York State Fair and the Director of the Art & Home Center are on the Museum’s Board of Directors.
- Dues, gifts of money to the Museum, belong to the Museum.
- Ingress and egress to the area used by the Museum to be open to the management of each organization at all times.
- Alterations to the building by the Museum to receive approval of the Fair.
- The Museum will carry Liability Insurance and co-insure the Fair as required by the Fair policy.
The Empire State Theatre & Musical Instrument Museum was the first organization to utilize the fairgrounds year-around. Today, the fairgrounds play host to some of New York’s and the north east’s largest conventions and trade shows almost every week of the year.
ESTMIM has played host to over a hundred different local and world famous touring theatre organ artists performing on what has become a must stop on the concert circuit.