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Friday, April 15, 2011

Organist David Hegarty Celebrates 33 Years Playing the Castro Theatre's Mighty Wurlitzer

Posted on Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 8:55 AM


We remember David Hegarty from the late 1980s. We didn't know his name. We just knew him as "the guy who plays the Mighty Wurlitzer at the Castro on Friday nights." We (okay, I) lived a couple of blocks away from the Castro Theatre, and getting to hear Hegarty play the Wurlitzer before a movie started made it worth showing up 20 or 30 minutes early. The organ was elevated on a hydraulic platform, its sound as powerful and omnipresent as any pipe organ in any cathedral. Whenever we saw Hegarty, we knew the movie was about to start because he'd play "San Francisco." As the song ended, the platform would descend, Hegarty would take on the passion of a symphony conductor in his movements, the lights would dim, the crowd would cheer, the curtains would open and Mildred Pierce (or whatever) would begin.

Mike Anderson at NBCBayArea.com sent us a link to the above video of Hegarty, who has played the organ at the Castro since the late 1970s. In the video, Hegarty tells us that the theater's Mighty Wurlitzer is, in fact, a pipe organ from the 1920s. There are no speakers or electrical connections, he says -- it's all mechanical. He describes playing one as "nearly a lost art." He now gives concerts on the organ during intermissions. Hegarty says that on nights when the crowd is enthusiastic, he'll end his set, lower the organ, walk under the stage, and think, "This is the best job in the world." Indeed.

Check out more of Anderson's clips here.

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