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Utah church's pipe dream: uniting two of the West's oldest organs

Published January 3, 2014 10:56 am

Music • Salt Lake City church closes in on its pipe dream: uniting two of the West's oldest instruments.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

French novelist Honoré de Balzac said the organ is "the grandest, the most daring, the most magnificent of all instruments invented by human genius." Mozart called it "the king of instruments."

Organ music, said British historian Thomas Carlyle, is like hearing "the morning stars sing together."

It is no wonder, then, that Salt Lake City's First United Methodist Church wants to restore its 107-year -old pipe organ to its former glory.

The downtown sanctuary's instrument is "the oldest organ in three states with more original parts in their original places," the church said in a news release. "The restoration will preserve the organ's historic nature by integrating over 2,000 pipes and components from the 1915 organ that originally accompanied silent films in the American Theatre, Utah's largest movie palace of its time."

Last month, the church launched an online crowdfunding campaign at http://www.3300pipes.org, to raise the $100,000 needed to augment the cash it has already collected for the project.

The organ was built in 1906 by the George Kilgen and Sons Organ Co. (1873-1939) of St. Louis, a nationally known company that had constructed many noted organs, including instruments at St. Patrick's Cathedral and Carnegie Hall in New York City.

The current restoration project includes re-establishing the organ's "unique 1900s tonal style, its organ case and console, and augmenting its character with other vintage components, most notably from another of the oldest and most noted organs in the region from the Salt Lake Masonic Temple," according to the church's website. "The organ at the Masonic Temple was originally in the American Theatre, a 3,000-seat silent movie theatre and the largest in Utah at the time, which was located on Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City. … The American Theatre's organ was a 49-rank instrument that was moved to the Masonic Temple after the silent movie era ended."

The website notes that famed Mormon Tabernacle organist Alexander Schreiner "began his professional musical career as a theater organist in Salt Lake City as early as his sophomore year in high school in 1917 at the American Theatre."

The final organ will represent "the oldest organ in the region still in its original location with another of one of the oldest organs in the region," the site says. The original organ had 33 sets of pipes; the combined organ will feature about 55 sets (approximately 3,000 individual pipes).

The organ restoration, the news release said, is a key part of a planned renovation of the whole church that will allow First United Methodist "to offer a flexible, inviting, intimate venue for community events, musical and other artistic performances."

That is the church pastor's dream.

"The historic nature of the organ is important for the whole community," the Rev. Eun-sang Lee says. "Making the organ come alive again and making the sanctuary space available to everyone will enrich our common life."

It will be, he says, "a significant connection to religious, musical and cultural history in Salt Lake City."

pstack@sltrib.com

Twitter: @religiongal —

How to help

I For more information about the organ-restoration campaign, go to http://www.3300pipes.org or contact Tricia Kritzberg at tkritzberg@gmail.com.