Van Nuys, California, 1917-1925.
From the OHS PC Database, derived from A Guide to North American Organbuilders, by David H. Fox (Richmond, Va.: Organ Historical Society, 1991). —
Succeeded California Organ Co. of Van Nuys, California, 1917; established by officers of the American Photo-Player Co.; associated with John D. Wheelan Pipe Organ Co.* of Dallas, Texas, July 1, 1919; the former American Photo-Player firm adopted the Robert Morton name, 1925; factory shut 1929; assets acquired by C.B. Sartwell, 1933.
Staff: Sylvain S. Abrams; Balcom & Vaughan; George J. Bohen; Paul Carlsted; Henry F. Charles; Henry J. Carruthers; Robert P. Elliot; H. C. Ferris; Mortimer Fleishacker; Herbert E. Kinsley; Louis Maas; R. P. Matthews; Arthur C. Pearson; Henry P. Platt; Carl Riedler; C. B. Sartwell; Leo F. Schoenstein, Sr.; (Gail Seward?); A. E. Streeter; Harold Werner; Stanley W. Williams; William D. Wood.
*Wheelan was one of the firm's sales and service representatives. —Ed.
We received the most recent update for this note from Database Manager on October 24, 2019.
From the OHS Database Builders Listing editor, April 8, 2016 —
The Robert-Morton Company (1917-1925) was primarily a theater organ manufacturer. The firm was the successor to the California Organ Co. which was purchased by H.J. Werner of the American Photo-Player Co. of Berkley, CA. Werner apparently renamed the company after one of his sons, Robert Morton (Mort) Werner, the hyphen was probably added in imitation of Robert Hope-Jones who was with the Wurlitzer firm at the time, and whose name was linked with theater organs. Werner used his Berkley plant to continue building smaller theater organs under the Photo-Player name, and the Van Nuys facility to manufacture larger instruments.
The firm had no shortage of orders, but it had almost constant financial difficulties due to under capitalization, Werner was forced out in 1925 by the stockholders. The parent company was reorganized as the American Photo-Player Company, but continued to build organs with the Robert Morton nameplate minus the hyphen. It continued under new management for another four years, but by 1927, motion pictures with sound were causing a drop in demand for theater organs. The factory shut down in 1929; its assets were acquired by former employee Carl B. Sartwell in 1933.
The Robert-Morton firm's predecessor, The California Organ Company, was a successor by a long path of the Murray Harris firm of Los Angeles. The Harris firm became the Los Angeles Art Organ Co. in 1904, Harris regained control and returned to his own name in 1906. Harris left the firm in 1913, and the company moved to Van Nuys under new management as Johnston Organ and Piano Manufacturing Company but still building organs with the Harris nameplate. Financial backer Suburban Homes took over the company a year later, and re-named it the California Organ Company. Werner purchased the factory from the real estate developer, and it became Robert-Morton. Throughout the company name changes, most of the worker remained. Many of the craftsmen from the previous incarnations of the Harris firm were still with Robert Morton when it finally closed in 1929.