Old theater will be filled with music, fun, once again

By Lynn R. Parks

Storing a stamp collection is easy: The philatelist need only buy the right kind of albums and the occasional shelf or two. Collectors of coins, butterflies, even pipes have similar solutions for storage problems, designed by collectors who came before them. But what is there for the man who collects miniature circus trains? Accordions? Juke boxes? Pipe organs?

“I have been looking for an old theater like this for years,” said Tom Marshall, who recently purchased the Layton Theater in Seaford. “I have been collecting things for over 50 years and now I have someplace to show them off.” Marshall, 55, and his business partner Mark Coleman, 24, purchased the Layton, which originally was built as a movie theater by Thomas E. Ayers. They are in the process of renovating the downstairs part of the building to accommodate Marshall’s collections. The upstairs, created when former owner Lynn Baynum put a drop ceiling in the main part of the theater to allow for more room for storage, is being transformed into living quarters, complete with two bedrooms, kitchen, living room and dining room. The chairs that were once part of the balcony still remain and will be used as seating for private film showings on a screen that will be installed upstairs. The men also plan to install a screen downstairs, where the Layton’s screen originally was. Marshall and Coleman are doing the bulk of the construction work themselves. They anticipate completing in late spring or early summer. Already downstairs are 10 organs, a mixture of pipe and electronic. An Empire organ, an electronic organ the men invented that, according to Marshall, exactly duplicates the sound of a pipe organ and that recently went on sale over the Internet, is already set up. With a touch of Marshall’s fingers it booms out show tunes and old calliope jingles. Waiting to be assembled is a 1921 organ from the Allen Theater in Cleveland. Marshall bought the organ in 1971 and spent about $30,000 reconditioning it. “It was used to accompany silent movies,” he said. The old 32-rank theater organ has close to 3,000 pipes. The old Layton will also be home to Marshall’s train display, featuring circus trains, HO scale. “And it all works,” he said. “The Ferris wheel goes around, the merry-go-round spins.”

A love affair with the organ Marshall grew up in Baltimore, where his mother Georgeann sold accordions. He started accordion lessons with his mother at age 5, even though he already knew that he wanted to play the organ. “I had a fascination for them,” he said. “I had heard a show organ at Glen Echo [amusement park] and I said, I’ve got to play one of those.” At age 6, he started organ lessons with Ora McDonald, organist at Westminster Church in Baltimore. But he kept up with his accordion lessons. At age 14, he competed on the Ted Mack talent show with a medley of polkas played on the accordion. He lost to Bob Ralston, who played the piano and who went on to play the accordion for the Lawrence Welk Show. Marshal studied for four years at the Peabody Conservatory, Baltimore, where one of his teachers was famed organist Virgil Fox. He then went to Queen’s College (now New Castle University), New Castle, England, to study; while there he toured throughout Europe, playing the theater organ. He is two-time winner of the Webber Competition for Organ, held in London. After returning to the United States, Marshall toured with the Baldwin Company, demonstrating and selling organs. He met Coleman in 1997 when the younger man contacted him about buying a cabinet for an organ speaker. The company they subsequently formed, Le Lyon Ltd., invents, manufactures and sells organs. Coleman is a native of Salisbury. He graduated from Parkside High School and played the drums in the band. He has a degree in economics from Loyola University, Baltimore, where he was part of the college jazz band. Like Marshall, he spent a year at New Castle University, studying economics as well as music. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business at the University of Maryland and is studying organ at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. A widower, Marshall has six grown children. Coleman is not married.

Parts of old theater remain Both men are excited by the original features of the Layton that still remain. The drinking fountain that sat in the foyer is still there, as are the glass bricks that formed the alcove in which it sat. Marshall and Coleman plan to restore the fountain so that it works. Still working but not useable because of the fire hazard they pose are the two projectors that point toward the front of the theater from the projection room. Because the light in the projectors is generated by a very hot carbon arc, much like that in a welding rod, they cannot be used, Coleman said. But they will stay where they are. Next to the projection room was the VIP room, where special guests could sit to watch movies. Coleman plans to transform that room into a recording studio. The men plan to clean off the theater exterior, and replace the side door, which they will use as their main entrance, with a leaded-glass door. The area at the front will be renovated and available for retail space.

A private playroom The old theater will not be open to the public. “This will be our home,” Marshall said. Nonetheless, he anticipates inviting groups, such as civic clubs and Scouts, in for tours and to show off what he calls his “toys.” He also wants to share his many collections and his music. “Everything I have been trying to do all my life, I have a chance to do here,” he said. “I want to show my things off to as many people as I can. And I want to have fun.”

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