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Grand Theatre - William Southern, owner
 
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From the HISTORY OF WHATCOM COUNTY by Roth
 
WILLIAM SOUTHERN
 
William Southern, long identified with the entertainment business on the Pacific coast and now proprietor of a moving picture and vaudeville house at Bellingham, known as the Grand Theater, was born in Lancashire, England, October 8, 1861, a son of Wright and Alice Southern. After attending the public schools to the age of ten years he found it necessary to provide for his own support and began working in a coal mine, being thus employed until he reached the age of nineteen years. Thinking that he might enjoy better business opportunities in the new world, he came to the United States and settled at Streator, Illinois, where he worked in the mines for a year and a half. He afterward devoted two and a half years to coal mining at Lucas, Iowa, and later was employed in various coal mines in different parts of Montana until 1889. In that year he returned to his native country on a visit and spent three months in England, but he had become strongly attached to the land of his adoption and on the expiration of that period he returned to the United States.
 
Going to Rock Spring, Wyoming, Mr. Southern there conducted a ten cent vaudeville show, which was the first vaudeville in the west. He was thus engaged until the spring of 1904, when he went to San Francisco and organized a traveling theatrical company, which he managed for six months. At the end of that time he removed to Bellingham and for two years was not active in business but throughout that period was looking for a good investment. He then purchased the Grand Theater and has since conducted it as a moving picture house through four nights of the week, while on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings he runs a vaudeville show. In 1916 he installed an eighteen thousand dollar pipe organ, enabling him to give to music lovers and theatergoers of Bellingham music of the highest class. This is a Kimball organ, one of the finest and largest on the Pacific coast. It required five months to build the organ at the factory and nearly seven weeks to set it up. Every pipe in the organ was built especially for this purpose. There are twenty-one miles of copper wire and nearly eighteen miles of pipe. A local paper in writing of this organ said: "Under his control, arranged so that every note may be blown simultaneously, the operator has fifteen hundred pipes, ranging in size from the giant base diapason twenty feet long to the tiny flute pipe three-quarters of an inch long and an eighth of an inch across. The organ is electrically controlled and operated. A five horsepower motor driven fan supplies the air for its operation and a little direct current generator the current for the playing mechanisms. Under each key, and there are three banks, or manuals of sixty-one keys each, are nine electric contact points. From these points a network of tiny wires, like the nerves of the human body, lead to the organ's 'brain.' Here a maze of delicate apparatus distributes the current to the pneumatics which control the air supply to the pipes. There are thousands of wires in the distributing board and a single mistake in wiring could mean an organ without harmony. On each side of the proscenium are banks of pipes, carefully concealed by beautiful ornamental pipes, and over the heads of the audience another organ, distinct from the grand organ is concealed. The strains of the echo organ, as the smaller one is called, are filtered through a grill and the effect is weirdly beautiful. The echo organ contains the cathedral chimes, xylophone and bells. These are 'the only accessories combined in the organ, yet it is capable of producing the music of any orchestra instrument excepting the drums. An organ is divided into four instruments, each complete yet dependent upon the other for the finished musical product. First there is the grand organ, or the diapason. This is the 'base' of the organ and imitates no instrument whatever. There is the flute department, which produces sounds like those of the hundred and one varieties of flutes. There is the string department, which sends forth the tones of the violin, the violincello, the bass viol and other string instruments and lastly the reed department, which imitates the tones of the cornet, the trombone and like instruments." The installation of this organ is an indication of the high grade of entertainments which Mr. Southern furnishes to his patrons. Upon the screen are to be seen the finest pictures put out by many of the best companies of this country and other lands and he also secures the finest vaudeville talent.
 
On the 6th of October, 1886, in Keokuk county, Iowa, Mr. Southern was married to Miss Effie May Foster, a native of that state. They now have three children: Earl H., who is twenty-seven years of age and is electrician and assistant manager of the Grand Theater; Wesley, who is twenty-four years of age and is also connected with the Grand Theatre; and Mildred, fifteen years of age, a high school student.
 
Mr. Southern has membership with the Elks and his religious faith is that of the Episcopal church. His life has been crowned with a substantial measure of success and he dserves much credit for his accomplishment as his efforts have been put forth along well defined lines and with a deinite purpose in view.


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