Project Completed 2009
The importance of the refurbishment of the grand symphonic organ in Chattanooga's Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Auditorium cannot be overstated. In a city known for its beauty and history, Chattanooga now has one of the jewels in her crown again. The 1924 Austin Pipe Organ is an historic instrument of world class beauty. Over the last ten years, my four sons, our associates and the Chattanooga Music Club have rebuilt this organ that stretches from one far outside wall to the other.
When we were invited by the Chattanooga Music Club to examine the 1925 Austin organ Opus 1206 at the Soldiers & Sailors Auditorium, it was quite a sight. The main inside Great division sustained the most damage when heavy chimes that hung above the pipes broke their ties, pierced the pipe toe boards and crushed hundreds of pipes. Evelyn Gibbs chaired the organ restoration project and had just located the String division that had been stolen along with many sets of pipes and the Percussion section. The building had air-conditioning installed and debris covered the entire organ that spanned the auditorium from one side to the other. All the leather of the actions, bellows, and doors had to be replaced. We started by buying new manual motor actions from Austin and instructing volunteers, headed up by Mr. Dan McFarlan (retired engineer), how to install the new actions. We later fine-tuned the actions and voiced the returned division.
The next project we took on was the Great, inside and out, including part of the Pedal division. The room that housed the Great and Pedal division was the largest Austin room we have ever been inside. The bellows were eleven feet long and six feet high with the room about fifteen feet tall from floor to pipe bar. We replaced all the leather, including all the internal actions and the doors to their original condition. We also improved the lighting for good service. The coal soot on the shades was about one-quarter inch thick. After we removed all the pipes and actions, we washed the walls, rack boards and toe boards. Each valve was blown clean and everything was vacuumed before we started with the new white leather. The organ being high above the stage went through some hot times. Wooden pipes suffered the dry air, and after cleaning, we restored their finish with fresh shellac and re-leathered the stoppers. The interior of the wind chest benefited from the air the blower supplied deep down in the cool basement.
The world famous English organist Edwin H. LeMere consulted with the Austin Company on some special organ stops he wanted for the new organ. One of the stolen stops was a special flute. The Austin Company did not have a specification of this set of pipes to help us reproduce the stop. They named the stop Cor de Nuit. After research, we found a reference to the stop sounding like the missing one in the sister Austin in Portland, Maine. David Wallace (the Portland Austin curator) made a special trip to take photographs and measurements of the pipes. Randy Wagner of Organ Supply Industries was able to duplicate the stop for us with the information we gathered from the organ and Mr. David Wallace. So there are two of these stops existing today. The City of Chattanooga repaired the reflective panels, installed new lighting, built walk boards for us to service the 32’ Open (our whole staff could fit in Low C) and they connected with walk ways to all three sections of the organ saving many trips up the 110 steps to the divisions.
All the divisions had their unique problems. Except for the String division, each division had many stops missing and many remaining pipes were severely damaged. When restored, the 22-rank Swell division with its full Principal, Flute and reed chorus along with its lush Strings brought back such wonderful sounds that the organ started to be played again even though so much work was still ahead. The final stages were the Solo, Pedal extensions, 32’ Open Wood and the Percussions. The Solo was completely silent. A water leak behind the Solo had deteriorated the floor. The wall that housed the large bellows had shifted breaking the seals and requiring air to that division to be cut off. Several ranks were missing and most extensions. We were able to move the wall back into position and secure it before we started the rebuilding process.
Because of their massive size, the 32’ Wood Open was laid on its side one stack in each corner of the floor above Center stage. There was some water damage to some of the pipes. After cleaning all the pipes and before applying fresh orange shellac, we discovered more split seams on the back side of the pipes next to the wall. We were able to find these splits because of the new catwalks the City built for us. Prior to the catwalks, the only area to stand was by the wind chest and bellows of each stack. We were able to fill the split seams with glue and screw them shut so the pipes could fully develop their pitch and fundamental. The Arndt Company of Ankeny, Iowa built us a new toy counter (also called “Traps” or “Percussions”). This consisted of a 26” bass drum, 14’ snare drum, 34” Chinese gong, 18” cymbal and a 9” Triangle. Attached is a photo of the toy counter with our crew, Dr. Jack Kennedy and the donor of the toy counter, Mrs. Barbara Kelly. We placed this next to the String division.
We continued this work over a ten-year period until the time of the wonderful dedication by Mr. Peter Richard Conte. Attached are photos of some before and after shots along with the grand recital to over 3,200 people. What an electrifying night!
"Toy Counter with Milnar Firm and Donator"
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