Restaurant History: How an Eatonville Family "Organized" Pizza & Pipes

  • By Margaret (Breuer) Daubert
  • Posted 5/14/2022
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 22422

Mary and Alfred Breuer met in grade school in California and were reunited many years later in Eatonville, Washington, a small town in the Cascade foothills of Pierce County. They married in 1923 and had four children -- Betty, Bill, Robert, and Margaret. The kids -- who grew up in a farmhouse overlooking a lake, a barn, a garden, and a pasture -- shared a love of community and music, and as adults they shared in work that paired music, food, and art. In this personal reminiscence, Margaret (Breuer) Daubert writes about Pizza & Pipes, the Puget Sound-area restaurants the Breuer family made famous. 

Bill Breuer's Brilliant Idea

It was brother Bill who first entered the restaurant business and in whose shoes the rest would follow. Bill opened his first restaurant in 1952 in San Francisco’s Mission District -- a coffee and donut shop –- in partnership with Lyndell Morgan, the son of Eatonville’s baker. He soon opened more in Palo Alto, San Mateo, and San Jose. Coffee was 10 cents, a tall stack of pancakes was 45 cents, tenderloin steak (with soup, salad, fries, bread and butter) was $1.45, and an order of prawns was $1.25. Margaret worked for Bill one memorable summer when in high school, and Bob worked for him after college until he opened his own restaurant in San Carlos.

In the late 1960s, Bill owned a dinner restaurant in Santa Clara that did not do very well. There was a pizza parlor across the Bay that had a small pipe organ and Bill, ever the entrepreneur, thought this was a great concept. So, he turned his Santa Clara restaurant into a pizza parlor, purchased a good-sized pipe organ, and called it Capn’s Galley Pizza & Pipes. The concept was an instant winner, attracting pizza fans, families, friends, and music lovers all under the same roof!

Who would have guessed that this would be the beginning of a family adventure that would spread from Bill to his siblings, from California to Washington, and from one to nine restaurants?

With this brand new concept, the first challenge at each location was to find a Wurlitzer theater pipe organ, and this was not an easy task. The Wurlitzer Company built pipe organs for theatres, symphonies, churches, and performance halls for only 26 years from 1914 to 1940. "The Mighty Wurlitzer" was invented by Robert Hope-Jones as a "one-man orchestra" to accompany silent movies so that one organist could replicate the sound (and cost) of an entire orchestra. The concept was based on the principle that a pipe organ could imitate the instruments of an orchestra and that the console could detach from the organ. The Wurlitzer keyboard controlled an electro pneumatic system that supplied air pressure designed to move through the pipes. The lungs of the instrument included a large air blower in a small room near the organ. Hitting a key electronically opened one of the pipes, which allowed the air to create its magical sounds. As a result, the zinc, wood, and brass pipes mimicked the sounds of an entire orchestra.

This entire orchestra was designed to be operated by one person from the console’s keyboards and foot pedals. Volume was controlled by swell shades mounted high on either side of the chambers. A 10 horsepower blower provided the wind used to operate switches and make the pipes speak, and also operated the percussions and sound effects. Each organ had up to 36 sets of pipes, and each set had its own voice. Each set reproduced the voice of an instrument of the orchestra like a trumpet, clarinet, or cello. Some of the pipes were formed to look like the instrument they reproduced.

Wurlitzer built just over 2,200 pipe organs. Many were shipped overseas, purchased by private owners, or simply disassembled and lost. A complete Wurlitzer in good condition was not easy to find in the 1960s. However, thanks to help from pipe organ aficionados and associations, it was not impossible. Once found, the next challenge was to package, transport, unpack, reassemble, and in most cases restore at least parts of the pipe organ. Again, local experts helped with the process. For some, this was a profession, but others, it was a passion: they loved handling and restoring the beautiful instrument.

Another basic step for all restaurants included finding a suitable building. At first, existing buildings were used, but four of the Pizza & Pipes restaurants (Tacoma, Serramonte, Bellevue, and Fresno) were designed from the bottom up to showcase the Wurlitzer so the pipes would be visible from the street and from everywhere within the restaurant. Sitting in the dining room, a patron could view hundreds of brass and wood pipes displayed in glass chambers. And as the organ was played, they could see the action of the shutter controls, kettle and bass drums, tambourine, woodblock, tom-tom, vibra harp, cathedral chimes, and the “toy counter” with its cymbals, fire gong, sleigh bells, and other special effects. In the original movie theatres, all this was hidden behind beautiful curtains because patrons were supposed to watch the movies. In contrast, Pizza and Pipes restaurants were designed to showcase the pipes. Even the restaurant interiors were designed based on silent movies, including painted silhouettes of famous movie stars and framed silent movie posters. One restaurant critic (the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Don Carter) described the scene:

"Indeed, it is all very exciting. The place is built around a huge Wurlitzer theater organ capable of making a jillion different sounds – most of them very loud. It is also a visual experience. Lights on the organ chamber shutters blink on and off as the organist pushes the swell pedal to the floorboard. Ribbons on the diapasons flutter as blasts of wind spew from the pipes. Mounted high on the walls surrounding the dining area are remote-controlled sleigh bells, drums, chimes, whistles and bells – and some dancing puppets."

Once the organ was purchased and restored, there was the challenge of finding an organ player who was not only comfortable playing a very complicated instrument, but was excited to play in a bustling, crowded setting. Pizza & Pipes very soon became a destination for family reunions, birthday parties, team celebrations, and special events. The organist could be playing for a crowd of music lovers or to a room full of screaming 5-year-olds. The operators had to be more than a musician: they had to orchestrate the show, including gauging crowd mood, taking requests, and keeping patrons interested. They also had to be able to accompany each night’s silent movie which could be anything from Buster Keaton to Charlie Chaplin. And they had to be able to play customer requests. Seldom were the organists stumped. Favorite requests included It’s a Small World, Phantom of the Opera, In the Mood, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Star Wars Theme, and the Mickey Mouse Song.

Perfecting the Pizza

And of course, there was the pizza! Bill’s original pizza dough recipe was used in all the restaurants at first. The pizza ovens could produce 150 pizzas an hour and all the pizzas were named after famous silent movie themes: King of Kings was the most elaborate (everything but the Wurlitzer); Perils of Pauline had everything but shrimp and anchovies; Our Gang included all the meats; The Sheik was a combination of everything but meats; and The Three Musketeers included mushroom, shrimp, and olives. The pizzas were excellent by themselves, but a salad bar and sandwiches were also available – and ice cream for dessert.

Each restaurant had its nightly traditions. Some had a Parade of Stars wherein employees dressed up as life-size characters and paraded around the restaurant while the organist played accompanying music. Upon seeing the parade, kids would drop their pizza and come running as they joined the parade and the resulting warm group hug. There was also a revolving mirrored light ball that sent colored polka dots blinking around the room. And the coup de grace: every Pizza & Pipes had an enchanting bubble machine that shot hundreds of little bubbles above the audience as the kids went wild.

As each Pizza & Pipes had its own look and feel, it also had its different owners. Bill eventually owned Pizza & Pipes in Santa Clara, Campbell, Redwood City, and Seremonte in California as well as in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood. He was probably the owner of the greatest number of Wurlitzer organs in the world at that time. Robert and his wife Cathy owned restaurants in Fresno and Sacramento. Betty, her husband Jack, and Bill co-owned Bellevue. And Margaret and husband Dick owned Tacoma. 

Pizza and Pipes Arrives in Seattle

By 1972, Bill had four Pizza & Pipes restaurants in California, and was interested in expanding to Seattle. There were several reasons for this: it was an opportunity to return to the Northwest where he had grown up, his two sisters lived there, he thought it would provide a career opportunity for his son, and he knew the market would be excellent. He was especially interested in the North Seattle neighborhood of Greenwood because there were few restaurants nearby, it was a dense residential area, and he found a building that had just been vacated by a 400-seat restaurant. Unfortunately, the building ended up requiring extensive remodeling and involved working with a difficult landlord. Bill would later decide that he would never again lease property, he would only purchase.

As for the main attraction, Bill found a Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ (opus #2121) that had been built around 1929 and originally installed in the Paramount Theater in Salem, Massachusetts. This organ was called a "Hope-Jones unit orchestra" after its inventor and it duplicated the music of a 200-piece orchestra. Restoration of the organ was done by Balcom and Vaughan with Don Myers and Bill Carson as the foremen. Volunteers, including Bill's engineer brothers-in-law, Jack Laffaw and Dick Daubert, and other "organ nuts" spent weekends helping as well. Each relay, pneumatic, pipe and wire was cleaned, checked, and repaired. There were thousands of these and 30 miles of wire. Bill found experienced and enthusiastic organists including Dick Schrum, Tom Scheen, Woody Preshow, and Andy Kasparian.

As soon as it opened, the restaurant was a huge success. The 400-seat restaurant was jammed with people lining out the door and enjoyed overflow crowds for weeks. Who could resist a large pizza accompanied by great music, silent movies, and Pac-Man! And for the little ones, there were coin-operated cars and trucks with which to play.

Betty and Margaret co-managed the restaurant for a year. Then, when Margaret and husband Dick left to open the Tacoma restaurant. Betty and husband Jack worked together on management, maintenance, repair, and operations. The Greenwood restaurant continued to serve families, friends, and music aficionados until a tragic day in 1982 when Bill’s airplane crashed into the mountains as he was flying between Washington and California, instantly killing its pilot and lone passenger – Bill.

Tacoma: Margaret and Dick Daubert

Margaret and husband Dick opened their business in August 1975 after two years of preparation. They had met during their freshman year at the University of Washington, where Dick was studying engineering and Margaret accounting, fell in love, and married. Now 40 years old, they were in the middle of raising four children who were 19, 16, 13, and 8 years old. Margaret was co-managing Greenwood Pizza & Pipes, leading Girl Scout troops, teaching Sunday School classes, and managing a large household – all of which helped her in dealing with people! Dick was an electrical and industrial engineer who had worked at Boeing for 15 years but had dreamed of starting his own business. Each time the family visited Margaret’s brothers and parents in California, they would visit the growing number of Pizza & Pipes restaurants and Dick would say "when are we going to do this?"

After the Greenwood Pizza & Pipes was up and running, they asked Bill if there was room for another restaurant in the Seattle area. Bill said yes – as long as there was a 30-mile separation between restaurants. He also said that he would be there to consult if they did all the work. Thus, the adventure began with research and development. Margaret and Dick began immediately to search for an ideal restaurant location and soon narrowed their focus on Spokane and Tacoma. Because they felt that Spokane would be too much of a stress on their three children still living at home, they decided on Tacoma. They found an empty lot near the new community college that had been the site of an old runway. Not only were stores and apartments being built nearby, but the land was reasonably priced. The area was viewed as having a lot of potential as a future business area but was underserved at the time. Indeed, soon after their restaurant opened, the area was transformed into what is now a thriving business district. When they found this land, Bill agreed to serve as landlord as well as consultant.

Margaret and Dick enrolled in a small-business class at Highline Community College, which later helped them qualify for an SBA loan through their local bank. They visited pizza parlors from Seattle to Los Angeles, sampling food and interviewing owners. And they traveled to a national restaurant owner meeting and discovered better crust and sauce recipes, which were eventually incorporated into all Pizza & Pipes restaurants.

Meanwhile, they searched for an organ. At the Seattle Library they found a thick binder that listed the names and cities where all the theater organs were located. They knew that over 2,000 organs had been built, but they needed to find one that was playable. From the library’s collection of city phone books they found addresses for 85 of the pipe organ owners. They then mailed letters asking if the owners would be interested in selling. They received 12 replies, one of which was from Dr. Fred Graybeal in Fort Worth, Texas, who owned not one, but two Wurlitzer Theater Pipe Organs. One of them was stored in his home in huge crates with miles of cables hanging out of them. It was a "Balaban" style Wurlitzer that was built in 1930 and installed in the Paramount Theatre in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It was one of only 100 of its size made by Wurlitzer and was thought to be one of the best.

Dick traveled to Fort Worth with a $22,500 cashier's check in his hand to purchase the organ that he hoped would be in as good of shape as described and to somehow get it to Seattle. He was not disappointed in the organ, but transporting it was another matter. Traditional moving companies would not touch an object of so much complexity, but he found a shipping company that would move the 16,800 pounds of pipes on a mileage basis and that had a 40-foot drop frame trailer, essential for transporting the fragile crates. He also found a trucker willing to move the crates and fill the trailer. The organ arrived in Seattle and was unloaded into a spare room at the Greenwood restaurant where it sat for 15 months as it was being restored.

Upon Dick’s return to Seattle, he and Margaret celebrated their new purchase with a trip to Ocean Shores as they planned their next steps. They decided that Dick would take a leave of absence from Boeing to focus on their future endeavors. Dick's parents, though somewhat skeptical about this huge career change, came aboard and spent many retirement hours helping with gardening and decorations.

The next step was to design and build their restaurant, and they set high standards for the venture. They hired renowned northwest architect Ralph Anderson, who they had met through Jean Jongelward, their well-known Seattle interior designer. Ralph traveled with them to Portland to visit a similar concept, the Organ Grinder, before he and his colleague Fred Repass started the design. Their goal was to design a beautiful building that would showcase the pipe organ from both outside and inside. Dick used his engineering skills as they worked to design a building that would be attractive and efficient and include a system for making the pizzas and serving them quickly. They were involved in every detail of the design, from big-picture decisions like whether to have two stories or one to small details like the location of drains, number of toilets, and placement of outlets.

This was the first building specifically designed for a Pizza & Pipes restaurant. The building was built to display the entire organ, including a 3-manual console, 17 different ranks of pipes up to 16 feet high, miles of wiring, and 29 percussion instruments and sound effects. One of the final details was the creation of interior murals of famous silent movie stars including Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and Theda Bara.

In the meantime, the organ was being restored pipe by pipe. Each relay, pneumatic pipe and 30 miles of electric wiring had to be cleaned, checked, and repaired, new wind-lines built, then the whole gigantic jigsaw reassembled in its glass case. The console, dark brown and dirty, was given a beautiful new finish. It turned out that of the 1,200 original pipes, only one small 6-inch pipe was missing. And the talented Bill Carson quickly made an identical replacement. Bill also oversaw the overall restoration including "winding" the organ (providing all the wind lines for turbulence). Ginny Whitting, Bill Wade, Bill Siddons, and Margaret Sabo were also part of the team. Don Myers worked on rewiring the key relays so that each time a red or black tab was pushed up or down by the organist, a signal would be relayed via copper lines that sent 12 volts. Each pipe was sanded and redone with new leather.

A key partner during this time was Terry Hockmuth, who not only worked on the organ but also designed and installed many unique features associated with the organ. He designed all the lighting on both the organ and the building. He installed chaser lights all around the building’s exterior and rotator lights that changed regularly. He installed lights on the swell shutters so that they were visible as they opened and shut while regulating the volume of air and music.

In the midst of all this activity, Boeing called one day to ask Dick when he would be returning to work. He replied that he would not be coming back and never regretted his decision.

Of course, organists were critical to the venture and Terry Hochmuth was the first organist hired as he was both incredibly talented and had worked so hard on the restoration. Terry eventually created the spectacular "Phantom of the Opera" extravaganza by engineering a console in the back office that was connected to the main console so that when he played in the back, the main console started playing mysteriously – with no one there! At the same time, lights would dim, dry ice clouds would pour out of the console, and a huge "poof" would emanate. He had hooked up a button under the console with flash powder and a firecracker that made a scary sound. At that point, Terry dressed up as the Phantom would emerge from the kitchen and the awestruck audience would shriek.

A Cast of Characters

Terry and all of the original organists became close friends as well. Sherrie Mael was in her 20s when she started playing the organ at Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium for local baseball games. She demonstrated great musical talent, enthusiasm, and warmth and she worked hard. Jane McKee Johnson was another beloved organist who, along with her husband, owned McKee Organs in Tacoma and loved to make music. Andy Crow from Olympia was also lead organist from the beginning. He originally thought he would play for three months, but this turned into 24 years. He especially loved the fact that the restaurant became a center for musicians who would stop by and play on their way through Tacoma. Another of their favorite organists was Tedde Gibson, a young man from Tacoma who played the organ for his church. When Margaret and Dick heard him play, they invited him to join the team and he ended up playing for several years, also becoming a close friend. Teddy eventually moved to Virginia where today he plays the organ for a large local church.

And of course, the organists were accompanied by – and accompanied – a parade of loveable characters. One of the favorites was Tweetza the Pizza Bird, created by Dick and Margaret’s youngest child, Jim, as part of a story he wrote for a class project when he was 10.

On August 22, 1975, the doors of Pizza & Pipes Tacoma opened for the first time and the restaurant was an instant success. People had watched it being built and right away came to sample the food and entertainment. "We were overwhelmed from day one," recalled Dick. Margaret remembered closing up at the end of that first day and saying, "it’s going to work!"

Over the years, they continually added to the attractions, so customers had something new to see, hear, taste, or play every time they visited. The organ grew to include 1,239 pipes and 29 special effects. They hosted fundraisers for sports teams, scouts, and many other groups. There were parties celebrating birthdays, retirements, graduations, and more. They hired dozens of local students for their first jobs.

One fan put it this way: "I grew up in Tacoma and my families – immediate and extended – were regulars at Pizza and Pipes .. It wasn’t just a place; it was a major part of my childhood. So many important – and so many just for fun – childhood events took place there."

Throughout the years, Margaret and Dick continued to co-run and manage the restaurant. Margaret handled all the accounting and finances while Dick ran the day-to-day operations along with their managers. Quickly, Margaret and Dick paid off their loan to Bill and to the bank, becoming sole owners free and clear. Eventually, Margaret was able to spend more time devoted to her growing passion – lay ministries at University Place Presbyterian Church – which she continues to this day. For 24 years, Pizza & Pipes Tacoma continued to serve its thousands of fans, until the dreadful day in 1999 when the restaurant was destroyed by fire, and Dick and Margaret decided to retire.

Bellevue: Betty and Jack Laffaw

Betty and her husband Jack entered the business in 1976. Betty, the eldest Breuer sibling, had married her high school sweetheart, Jack, who also grew up in Eatonville. Betty and Jack met in kindergarten, dated in high school, married in college, and now [2022] celebrate over 80 years of love! Jack also loved music, playing the clarinet and saxophone in both the band and dance band, while Betty played piano in the dance band. They attended the University of Washington together and then built a home in the Lakeridge community of Renton where they raised their three children. During that time, Betty was active in the PTA, co-founded the Renton School District Ski School with Jack, and then helped manage the Greenwood Pizza & Pipes. Jack, in the meantime, worked as a mechanical engineer for 30 years at PACCAR, eventually becoming chief engineer until he was ready for a new adventure.

They sat down one day and talked about how much they both loved being involved with Pizza & Pipes. They talked about the pros and cons of opening their own business and decided that "if not now, they would regret it for the rest of their lives." When brother Bill agreed to be a 50 percent partner, they took out a mortgage and jumped right in.

They started by searching for both a location and an organ. They worked with a variety of real estate agents, but it was their friend Stu Pope who found the ideal property. This parcel was located in growing Bellevue, with easy vehicular access and highly visible from busy Interstate 405. Having purchased the land, they then designed their building to showcase the organ, working with Jack’s friend from college, Jack Woodman, and his colleague, architect Ned Nelson, to complete the design.

They found their Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ at its original location: the Academy of Music Theatre in New York City where it was installed in 1925. The Academy of Music was a popular and busy vaudeville theater in its day that hosted Jack Benny, Milton Berle, George Burns, Lucille Ball, and others. The organ had 1,239 pipes and its percussion units included sleigh bells, chimes, drums, cymbals, and other special effects. Although it was still in the original theater, it had endured years of neglect and water damage. The console was a "disaster" as it was especially damaged by water. It weighed 10 tons and had 17 ranks or sets of pipes, with each rank having its own voice. A system of relays connected the pipes by more than 80 miles of wire and the pipes measured from 6 inches to 16 feet in height.

Not to be discouraged, Bill flew to New York, hired a crew, and oversaw the packing of the console and pipes, wires, and machinery. He then loaded it all onto a semi-trailer and trucked it from the New York City Theater to a Bellevue warehouse where it was restored over a year and a half by Jack, Bill Carson, and many others. Jack’s mother, Rhoda, prepared her famous casseroles and box wine for the workers and stayed with Jack and Betty many nights during these long months.

Betty and Jack had fun creating the restaurant's custom details. Jack designed and built four magnificent chandeliers that became the centerpieces of the large interior. He used a chandelier base (mind you, these chandeliers were 7 feet across), carefully bent electrical conduit, purchased dozens of soft amber lights, and then encased them in dozens of silex glass pieces to create the four objects of art. They installed a spinning mirrored disco ball and, together with the organ’s whistles and bells, bass drum, player piano, floating soap bubbles, sleigh bells, and dancing puppets all operated by the organist, the Wurlitzer was called by one patron a "previous generation’s answer to video games."

As soon as Pizza & Pipes Bellevue opened for business, it too became a popular family restaurant and Jack left PACCAR for good. On a typical Pizza & Pipes night, organists Dick Schrum, Andy Crow, Bob White, Greg Smith, or Patty Simon were liable to break into anything from a tune from Disney’s The Little Mermaid to a Bach fugue. Often, they would accompany the silent movies that played on the screen in front of them. Betty wanted a woman organist, so she sought out Patty, who was also a talented organ installer. Bob White had a special gift for tone and tune and often would spend two to three hours on the organ each week so that it remained in excellent working condition.
 
Betty and Jack's restaurant also featured a nightly parade of stars which included Melody Mouse and Durk Duck, Tweetza, the Chartreuse Bird, and Pansy the Purple Horse (who required three people to carefully coordinate movement). All costumes were uniquely created by a Bellevue seamstress. The experience was described by the Bellevue Journal American on Dec 15, 1986:

"It's a one-man orchestra is what it is! The focal point of the whole scene is the theater organ, a large cream-colored instrument with gold trim built in 1925. It has 183 keys, 32-foot pedals and a long row of stops to control the 17 sets of pipes that duplicate the sounds of trumpets, tubas, sleigh bells and other instruments. The lungs of the instrument are a large air blower in a small room near the organ. Hitting a key electronically opens one of the pipes, allowing the air to create its magical sounds."

When organist Dick Schrum was asked why he preferred to play at Pizza & Pipes, he replied: "It’s the organ. It's probably the most perfect instrument of its type that I've ever played. Everything works on it just as it should. It’s just a pleasure to play."

Betty and Jack owned and operated their beautiful Bellevue restaurant from 1977 to 1991, until they learned that the City of Bellevue had identified their property as essential for its expansion plans. Eventually, the land and building were sold to Bellevue, and the organ was sold to the Silverwood Theme Park in Idaho.


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