Phil Adkins’ collection of vintage jukeboxes evokes memories and emotions from days gone by
There’s nostalgia, and there’s reverie. The former is what you feel when you first lay eyes on Phil Adkins’ spectacular collection of vintage Wurlitzer jukeboxes. The latter is where you go when he plays Charlie Parker’s 1949 rendition of “Autumn in New York” for you on one of them. It is no less than a magic carpet ride through time, floating on the gossamer currents of precious memories that aren’t even necessarily your own.
A former programmer and systems analyst for the University of Delaware and consultant for the IMF/World Bank in D.C., Adkins began collecting jukeboxes in 1981, though he didn’t actually realize it at the time.
“I just wanted to pick up a cool accessory for my basement rec room,” said Adkins, who also did a tour in the Air Force, “but when I saw that Rock-Ola, I guess I fell in love.”
Adkins is referring to the 1958 Rock-Ola model 1458, which can play both sides of 60 45-rpm records. With its curved-glass top and buffed-metal components, it seems to embody a silvery gateway between the grander, real-wood cabinetry of jukes from previous decades and the miniature chrome versions that have found happy homes on the tables of diners across the United States.
But Phil’s indoctrination to the magic of the jukebox actually came much earlier, however, back in 1947, when his parents became the owner-operators of Griffin’s Restaurant on West Main Street in Salisbury. It was during those halcyon days of postwar America that a wizard named Wurlitzer cast a spell on the young Adkins that would remain fully intact to this day.
“We actually lived above the restaurant until 1951,” recalled Phil, a musician who’s played the drums both in live bands and on studio recordings. “The restaurant had an alcove, and in it sat a Wurlitzer 1015 “Bubbler” jukebox that ultimately became a fixture of my childhood. I would often come home after school and sit in one of the booths and have a piece pie and maybe do my homework or just daydream a bit as that jukebox spun out tunes by singers like Perry Como, Doris Day, Patti Page and Nat King Cole. I have no doubt that Wurlitzer played a pivotal role in what would become a lifelong love of music.”
“It was such a wonderful time,” he continued. “On warm summer evenings, I’d sit by the open window in my grandparents’ apartment, above Hayman’s Pharmacy, and listen to legends like Billie Holiday, Count Basie and Louis Jordan perform live at Zanzibar nightclub on Lake Street. I imagined that this is what Heaven must be like.”
Following his acquisition of that first Rock-Ola, Phil set his sights squarely on jukes by Wurlitzer. In fact, the sweet swell of Charlie Parker’s sax alluded to earlier had flowed from Adkins’ Wurlitzer 1936 model 412, which could handle 12 78-rpm records (all Wurlitzers played only 78s until the 1950s) and featured a walnut-and-mahogany veneer cabinet. He also has a 1937 Wurlitzer model 616, which, like the 412, features a rich wood-veneer cabinet but can play up to 16 records.
Adkins’ favorite, though, is the 1941 Wurlitzer 750 that sits center stage in his living room. Made from mahogany wood veneer, with marbleized plastic, a glass-panel door and streaming bubble tubes, this 350-lb. Art Deco masterpiece can play every delicious hiss and pop from up to 24 discs. As with the 750, 412 and 616, Adkins’ Wurlitzer models 1015 “Bubbler” and 1100 (the last model to be designed by juke-giant Paul Fuller) are completely restored, fixed and maintained by Adkins himself, using all-original Wurlitzer parts. Typically, a 100-percent restored Wurlitzer jukebox may fetch anywhere from $3,000 to $12,000.
Also an avid collector of 45s, 78s and LPs from the turn of the 20th century through the ‘60s, Adkins will be giving a lecture and presentation in the Nanticoke Room of Salisbury University on Dec. 2 at 2 p.m. on his collection and on jukeboxes in general. For more information, contact the university. For those with a serious interest in vintage jukeboxes and recordings, Phil may be reached at 410-742-1984.
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