Anyone who is really old like me and/or lived in the Chicago area might well remember going to the Hub Roller Rink on Harlem Avenue in Norridge. What made roller skating so very special there was the genius of Leon Berry playing the mighty pipe organ way up above our heads. But even more interesting was that he built a full sized pipe organ in the basement of his house. Read on!
Leon Clay Berry was born July 2 1914 in Burnsville, Dallas, Alabama to Paul Burns Berry and Anna Ida Kramer. He began playing the organ in church back in Selma, Alabama. In the Chicago area , after military service, he worked at Hammond Organ for a time, he played in barrooms, The Trianon Ballroom on Cottage Grove at 62nd, the Arcadia Roller Rink at Broadway and Montrose, and most famously the Hub at 4510 N. Harlem. After his time at the Hub, he played at the Orbit Roller Rink in Palatine for a time. He cut several great LP albums including my favorite “Beast in the Basement. But wait there is the “Beast”! Read on
What we never saw was the full size pipe organ that he somehow was crammed into the basement of his house in Norridge! In the 1950’s Leon rescued the Rudolph Wurlitzer Manufacturing Co. – 2/4 Opus 2050 pipe organ from the El Tovar Theatre 26 N. Williams St in Crystal Lake Illinois. .| This great old theatre had a stage for vaudeville acts. The Wurlitzer was purchased and installed on June 4, 1929 to provide entertainment along with the movies and stage shows. It was a style 140 Wurlitzer, with 3 sets of percussion, 17 traps, and a curved console. As theatres began showing movies with sound (talkies), the pipe organ slowly went silent and collected dust (The theatre was later renamed the Lake and is now the Raue Center for the Arts)
Leon somehow was able to get all the pipes and console into his basement. The organ is said to have taken six years to reinstall. It took up such a large amount of room in Leon’s basement, that he had to eliminate the cold air return duct from his furnace. There was no spare space left. He named it the Beast in the Basement.
Leon sadly died at the age of 82 on August 23, 1996 and was entombed In Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie. He was survived at the timeby his wife and daughter .
. After Leon’s passing, the “Beast” was sold to an individual in Arizona
But wait, there’s still more!! We can still enjoy his wonderful music on YouTube. Lace up your roller skates (if they still fit), and turn up your computer speakers as loud as they go.
Thanks to Steve Rabb who made and uploaded this great video!