In part one of this article, we skipped down memory lane to remember the Paramount Music Palace restaurant once located at the southwest quarter of the Washington Street and I-465 interchange. The Palace operated on Indy’s eastside from 1979 to 1995 as the Paramount Music Palace Family Pizza Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlour. Despite its far-reaching name, the Palace was not about the food, it was about that Mighty Wurlitzer.
Over the years, many noteworthy performers gleefully tickled the keys of that mighty musical instrument. Many went on to sparkling careers after their time at the Mighty Wurlitzer was finished. One of those virtuosos was a double-duty celebrity here in the Circle City whom most Hoosiers will remember for his 18 years of service on the airways as a sportscaster at Channel 6.
Ken Double was born in Chicago and earned a degree in Radio-TV at Butler University. His career reads like a resume for media cool. He started out at WBAT Radio in Marion, then switched formats by going to WLFI-TV in Lafayette. There he became a fixture on the 1970s Boilermaker sports scene hosting his own Purdue basketball pregame show. From there, he joined the team at WRTV-6 as a sports anchor and worked games for the Pacers, Indianapolis Ice hockey team and Indy 500 before relocating in 1999. When it came to the Indy sports scene, Ken Double was the man.
“Sports is the Toy Department of life. I tried to be entertaining and enjoyable to listen to,” Ken said. The award-winning broadcaster finished his career with 17 seasons of NHL, IHL and AHL hockey play-by-play, including a brief stint with his beloved hometown team, the Chicago Blackhawks. “In the play-by-play field, I really worked hard to ‘paint the word picture’ on radio…and I really worked hard to be entertaining and fun for the fan and the listener.” Until 2008, music was always Ken’s second career, almost an afterthought due to his 32 years in broadcasting.
“I performed at the Paramount Music Palace full time in 1980, from January till that summer when I landed the TV gig at Ch. 6,” Double said. “I continued to ‘sub’ occasionally after that. Guesstimate as to how many times I played? Hundreds over a 6-7 year span.” The Mighty Wurlitzer was a thing of wonder to be sure, but for Hoosiers, it was always an extra special treat to find Ken Double manning the keys.
“It was a GREAT pipe organ to play. Fridays and Saturdays, we had two organists splitting shifts,” recalled Mr. Double. “We would each play about six or seven 20-30 minute sets as the idea was to get one crowd out and the next one in. In the 80’s the place did unreal business. Other nights, not as crowded, working alone, we might play five or six 40-minute sets.”
“While we could choose our selections, the ‘tip bowl’ provided us with the request list that pretty much told us what the audience wanted us to play.” Double continued, “Dubbed ‘The Dirty 30’ it was Star Wars, Rocky theme, ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo,’ and 27 other regulars we played a LOT…including Happy Birthday!”
Ken Double knows a thing or two about pipe organs. The Atlanta, Georgia resident has been President and Chief Executive of the American Theatre Organ Society for a decade. He will be leaving that post on March 31. Unlike the Alabama Theatre in Birmingham, whose Wurlitzer is called “Big Bertha” or the Fox Moller organ in Atlanta known as “Mighty Mo,” the pipe organ at the Paramount Music Palace was always known by it’s given name: “The Mighty Wurlitzer.”
Mr. Double plays Mighty Mo regularly. He enjoys playing the prelude music for the audience before Broadway shows and other events at the theatre. The organ is used there 140 nights a year. Ken shares duties with another Atlanta organist.
Ken has great memories of his time playing at the PMP. “Occasionally we would get a card congratulating some newlyweds, which would always prompt me to say, ‘Newlyweds. This is the LAST place I think I would be right now.’ That always got the biggest laugh of the night.” He recalled, “One time, I was playing ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo,’ and we would create that train-like effect, with the train whistle at the end. Unbeknownst to me while I was playing, they had purchased a new train whistle, about 5 TIMES LOUDER THAN THE ONE I WAS USED TO…and when I hit the whistle, a guy hit the NEW whistle (there but not yet hooked to the console), and everyone told me I jumped about a foot and a half off the bench. They had a good laugh at my expense, which was all in good fun.”
When asked which job he liked the best, the diplomatic Double responded, “I’ve been lucky to have been paid to have fun — twice. Paid to watch sporting events, and paid to play great pipe organs. Nice work if you can get it. And I try to do the same thing when playing a concert on the theatre organ. By all means, make great music…but above all, entertain. It makes for a far greater connection to your audience (viewers/listeners) and a far more enjoyable experience for them. And I always am aware of simply how fortunate I have been to have been able to pursue not one, but two passions, and make careers out of that passion. To be truthful….never worked a day in my life! Simply had fun and got paid for it.” This coming June 10 will mark Ken’s 35th Annual Concert at the Long Center Wurlitzer in Lafayette.
As for the Paramount Music Palace, there was no single reason for the closure in 1995. Though profits were not what they used to be, it wasn’t losing money. The PMP had 23 different owners in its 16 year lifespan. It seems that, like the recently closed Milano Inn, it was just a good time to move on. Only one question remained: what to do with the Mighty Wurlitzer? When the doors closed for good, it was reported that three parties were interested in the Wurlitzer, including the Walt Disney Co. and a group that wanted to install it into the Circle Theater. Ultimately, it was sold to a music museum in Germany; which never opened. The Wurlitzer landed in the Roaring 20s Pizza and Pipes restaurant in Ellenton, Florida.
It took over more than 2,500 hours to rebuild and another 1,700 hours to install at the Roaring 20’s, which opened late in 1999. The restaurant succumbed to declining profits and closed permanently in October of 2015. Current whereabouts of the Paramount Publix I (Opus 2164) are unknown. At last report, it was being offered for sale by the Theatre Organ Group on Facebook for $80,000. The organ is dismantled and in storage at present.
Just as the birth of talking films hastened the demise of the everyday theatre pipe organ and MTV “Video Killed the Radio Star,” Paramount Music Palace’s Mighty Wurlitzer seemed as dated as Grandpa’s World’s Fair Spoon. The Palace lasted 16 years before making way for the Don Pablos Mexican Restaurant, which served its last taco around Christmas of 2007. Now eastsiders are left to reflect on the PMP, the last great attempt to put a legendary theatre organ and the general public in contact with one another. The PMP was a slickly orchestrated, stream-lined gimmick that seemed destined to last for generations, but it didn’t.
My wife and I headed out to Fazoli’s last week for a slice and some bread sticks. Most people dining there would have no idea of what once was as they gazed westward from their windowed booth. My mind wandered back to the PMP and its place as a unique Eastside landmark. I also remembered another event from my past, dissimilar, yet oddly connected somehow.
Back in the late 80s, well before the PMP closed up shop, I had the opportunity to meet former Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain. He was the last man to win 30 games in a single season and a pretty fair organ player himself. I asked him to autograph a record album my parents had given me. It had a great color picture of McLain on the mound and was titled, “Denny McLain at the organ. The Detroit Tigers’ Superstar Swings with Today’s Hits.” He graciously signed the old 33 and asked, “Have you listened to it?” I answered, “No Sir.” To which he replied, “Well, you could have at least lied.” Now that I’m older and realize just how much music (and in particular the pipe organ) mean to those who play, I wish I would’ve lied.
Al Hunter is the author of the “Haunted Indianapolis” and co-author of the “Haunted Irvington” and “Indiana National Road” book series. His newest books are “Bumps in the Night. Stories from the Weekly View.” and “Irvington Haunts. The Tour Guide.” Contact Al directly at Huntvault@aol.com or become a friend on Facebook.