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Uncle Milt's Pizza Co. - 3/18 Wurlitzer
Vancouver, Washington
2410 Grand Blvd.
Organ installation timeframe: 1970's - 1999
Back to the Northwest Theatre Organ History: Pizza & Pipes Restaurants page

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The world's largest Wurlitzer console greets visitors to Uncle Milts.
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Donna Parker at the console, September 1999

View from the balcony level, c. 1980
Uncle Milt's Wurlitzer was originally built in 1926 for the Orpheum Theater (opus 1674) in Seattle, Washington. It was moved to its current location in 1979 where 5 ranks were added along with additional percussions to bring it up to a total of three manuals and eighteen ranks, with a total of 1,362 pipes.
Unfortunately, Uncle Milt's restaurant closed in 1999. The building and property were purchased by the Rite Aid drug store chain.
A final "Farewell" concert was held on June 5, 1999. Wendy Kieffer-Patrick, Donna Parker, Andy Crow, Dean Lemire and Skip O'Donnell were the featured artists. The farewell was a bit premature since the restaurant was still operating in September.

Uncle Milt's uniquely decorated three-manual console came from Portland's Oriental Theatre and was provided by Dennis Hedberg when the Organ Grinder Restaurant upgraded to a four-manual console. Click for a larger version of this image (71K)

Console Magazine, June 1980
World's Largest Horseshoe Console Helps to Sell Pizza

The following article by Mike Rogoway apeared in the Vancouver Columbian newspaper on March 23, 1999:
Tuesday, March 23, 1999
By MIKE ROGOWAY, Columbian staff writer
He's not one of Clark County's most recognized faces, but Scott Cervarich may be one of its best-known personas. On and off for 10 years, he's been the Pink Panther, entertaining customers at Uncle Milt's Pipe Organ Pizza Co. in Vancouver in a big pink cat costume.
"I basically do a dance show on stage for everybody, basically to get the crowd rolling," Cervarich said.
He'll soon have to find a new job, however, because Uncle Milt's days are numbered. The restaurant will close at the end of June and be demolished to make room for a RiteAid pharmacy.
The closure will mark the end for not just a pizza parlor, but for a place with a boisterous 20-year legacy of pipe organ music, old silent movies, soap bubbles dripping from the ceiling and other family fun.
"I wish it was going to be open for many years. I'm sad it's closing," Cervarich said. "It's a good community spot."
Closure of the 20-year-old restaurant has been inevitable since RiteAid arranged to buy Uncle Milt's property at Fourth Plain and Grand boulevards last year. Other tenants, including a KFC outlet, also will be demolished to make way for the new store.
No one was sure just when the end would come, but Uncle Milt's recently set June 30 as its last day. RiteAid will move in late this year or early next year.
"That's sad," said Priscilla Nelson, a 17-year-old high school student in Battle Ground. When Nelson stopped at Uncle Milt's for lunch Monday, it was her first visit in years. Like most other kids raised in Clark County in the past 20 years, she has many fond memories.
"I used to come here, like, every weekend with my dad," she said.
Uncle Milt's remains a popular spot for kids' birthday parties and family outings. It can seat almost 500 people and often does, according to manager Jeffery DeLoach.
"We're completely convinced that some nights we feed a quarter of Clark County," he said.
While the restaurant is still doing well financially, DeLoach said owner Milt Kieffer ("Uncle Milt") is 70 years old and wants to retire. DeLoach said RiteAid made an offer that Kieffer and his partners "couldn't refuse."
The bubbles, dancing panther, and a mirror ball hanging from the ceiling give Uncle Milt's a festive, even silly atmosphere. Organists, though, take Uncle Milt's Wurlitzer pipe organ quite seriously.
"It's very good," said Terry Robson, co-founder of the Columbia River Organ Club in Portland. "It has been considered by people who really do know, to be one of the finest pizza parlor organs in the country."
Uncle Milt's pipe organ originated in the Orpheum Theater in Seattle in 1926. The console (the part the organist plays) comes from the Oriental Theater in Portland.
Pipe organs were common in silent movie theaters in the 1920s and early '30s. When talking pictures replaced the old silent films, though, many old organs gradually fell into disrepair. Robson said some ended up in junk heaps.
About 30 years ago, a California man found a new use for the old organs in pizza parlors. Robson said that spawned a fad that took off on the West Coast and in the Midwest.
"It was a good way to recycle these theater pipe organs when they were taken out of movie houses," he said.
Interest in pizza parlor pipes faded, though, and there are just a handful of the pipe organ restaurants left anywhere in the country. Uncle Milt's was the last in the Vancouver-Portland area, because the Organ Grinder in Portland closed a few years ago.
Restaurant owner Kieffer has put the restaurant's organ up for sale. According to Robson, churches, public auditoriums and private collectors are all in the market for pipe organs, and Uncle Milt's could fetch as much as $30,000.
With 1,362 pipes in 18 "ranks" (sets of pipes), Uncle Milt's organ is not especially large, Robson said. He said it has been extremely well tuned and maintained, however, so the restaurant has been a popular place for his organ club to meet.
According to Robson, the club has brough organists in from all over the country to play there.
"Milt's has been our home since our inception, and we're really, really, really sorry to see it go," he said.
ADDRESS: 2410 Grand Blvd., near East Fourth Plain Boulevard
WHAT: To close on or about June 30
WHY: Owner Milt Kieffer retiring; Rite Aid pharmacy moving in
ORGAN'S AGE: 73 years

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