Note to readers: Barry Schraders 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
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. McClearys 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.