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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column every other Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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Glimmer of hope for Wurlitzer in Egyptian

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist...................June 16, 2015

Note to readers: Barry Schrader’s “DeKalb County Life” column will appear every other Tuesday.

In March 2009, I optimistically declared in a column headline: “Mighty Wurlitzer coming to the Egyptian,” but unfortunately nothing much has progressed toward that end in the past six years.

However, there is a glimmer of hope since the DeKalb City Council may fund a feasibility study regarding the installation of air conditioning at the historic Egyptian Theatre. The $600,000 theater pipe organ now in storage in DeKalb could be a part of this project if money is raised to have it happen in conjunction with the air conditioning work.

It would be ideal to combine the two projects so the theater is not torn up twice. “If the stars align, the two projects could proceed together,” the theater's executive director Alex Nehrad said when I called him last week.

This photo shows a Wurlitzer Opus 1020 Series F theater pipe organ similar to the one now in storage awaiting eventual installation at the Egyptian Theater. It was built in 1925 and has two keyboards and pedals totaling eight ranks. (Photo provided)

The organ lofts where the pipes will be installed are still intact, but a lot of restoration work needs to be done on the instrument and its attachments, according to David McCleary, an organ builder who works for the New York firm Parsons Pipe Organ Builders, but lives in DeKalb. He and Jeff Weiler, an expert in Wurlitzer organs, were the two men who originally discovered the organ at George Mason University in Washington, D.C. and arranged for its acquisition, then personally trucked it back to Illinois.

McCleary said there are no fully-restored Wurlitzer theater organs anywhere in Illinois at present and this would be a tremendous asset to the Egyptian. The cost to complete the organ restoration and installation would be $300,000 to $400,000 and would have to be raised before the work could begin.

The instrument has already been gifted to the Egyptian by the American Theatre Organ Society and is being kept in a climate-controlled storage facility. McCleary’s group had decided to keep the organ in storage until the theater could be air conditioned to protect the instrument.

McCleary provided me with a history of the organ. It was built for the Rialto Theater in Washington, District of Columbia, in 1925 and remained there until the showplace closed. Then it went to the Mount Zion Baptist Church until that edifice was acquired for construction of The Pentagon. It was later acquired by the Potomac Valley Theater Organ Society and installed at George Mason University.

So there is still optimism among the people who have made the effort to provide DeKalb with a world-class pipe organ. All it takes now is melding it with the air conditioning project plus a major fundraising effort. I hope there are enough organ aficionados in the area to make it happen.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115