From Sacramento to Purgatory and Back
By Bob Hartzell
Before I tell you of the organ's travels, I must give you a little early history of the instrument. Balcom and Vaughan originally installed it in the Music Hall (Fox) Theatre in Seattle in 1928. It is a high pressure (15") instrument much like the 4/14 Robert Morton in the Warnors (Pantages) Theatre in Fresno. It was purchased by the owner of the Carl Greer Inn, Dan Adamson, and installed by Don Myers and Wayne Puckett of the Balcom and Vaughan firm. Clyde Derby, Dave Schutt, Ray Anderson and other ATOSers (it was ATOE at that time) made final adjustments.
In the mid-1970s the organ was purchased by Bonnie Ciauri of Palm Springs, and now Hemet, for future installation in her home. Bonnie has a small Wurlitzer in her Palm Springs home and has an extensive collection of electronic organs and several pianos. She had the console completely refinished with a beautiful walnut finish. In 1978 the pipes and all other parts were stored in a large metal shipping container in the yard of her Hemet home and that's where this magnificent instrument slipped into pipe organ purgatory.
First, I must explain that the city of Stockton has recently purchased the beautiful 2000 seat Fox California Theatre in downtown Stockton. I am part of the volunteer group, Friends of the Fox, that is undertaking projects to benefit the Fox. It seemed a natural to me that a theatre organ be reinstalled in the Fox as there are nice, large chambers that are just crying out for some pipes. Unfortunately, the shutter openings are somewhat small to fill an auditorium of that size. Tom DeLay advised me that the best solution was to get a powerful instrument and that the right instrument would be the very powerful 4/16 Robert Morton if we could locate it.
It is of particular interest that it was on the original Fox California organ that George Wright took his first lessons on the theatre organ. He and his mother lived in Stockton at the time. George later moved to the Sacramento area where he attended Grant Union High School and helped install that organ.
Fortunately, Art Nisson, an ATOSer from Orange County, knew where the instrument was stored and went to investigate. He found the console stored in the home in Palm Springs and in excellent condition. When he opened the metal shipping container he was overcome by intense humidity and observed water dripping from the ceiling and all over the pipes. It was a horrible sight and the smell of damp wood was overwhelming. He believed the organ might be a complete loss. However, Art and I reasoned that the metal pipes might be usable again and so we started negotiations for Bonnie to make a 501(c)(3) donation to the Friends of the Fox.
At about the same time, Bert Atwood, who owned the original Sacramento Senator (Fox) Theatre Robert Morton and had it stored at his home in Lake County, indicated an interest in making a 501(c)(3) donation to the Friends of the Fox. With this organ as back-up, we felt confident in going ahead with the big 4/16 organ. We reasoned that any of the parts of the Greer organ that were unusable could be substituted with the Senator organ. In addition, Nor-Cal Chapter of ATOS offered to transfer to Friends of the Fox some Robert Morton percussions and other ranks from an organ they had acquired in Monterey.
With negotiations complete, the next step was to move everything to Stockton. Bert Kuntz, Bert Atwood and others from Lake County helped move the Senator Robert Morton early in the summer. There are many ranks and chests and the trems have all been newly rebuilt. The instrument is currently stored in the boiler room and solo chamber of the Fox California.
Art Nisson brought the first load of the 4/16 parts to Stockton on his automobile carrier. Included was the huge 15-HP blower and other stuff that was at the front of the steel container. Next was the enormous task of bringing the remainder of the organ to Stockton. In August, I rented the biggest U-Haul they make. Art, several friends of his, and I loaded the rest of the instrument and I drove it to Stockton. All of these parts are now in safe, dry storage in a warehouse in Stockton. Much of the the wood has dried out and the smell has disappeared but many of the wooden parts will need to be reglued. The huge four manual console was moved to Stockton by Bekins and is now on display in the lobby of the Fox California Theatre in downtown Stockton.
I have recruited Dave Moreno to head up the huge task of putting everything in working order and installing the instrument in the theatre. We now have the job of releathering all the chests, rebuilding the toy counter and all the rest of the percussions, resoldering the big tuba pipes, regluing many of the wooden pipes, regluing swell shutters, and unpacking and cleaning everything. The only real losses are the major 16' Diaphone and the 16' Flute which just fell apart in our hands when we were removing them from the container. All of this will cost money and we're currently in the process of trying to get support from the city of Stockton.
Once the organ is ready to be reassembled and the chambers are ready to receive it, we will begin installation. A lot depends upon financing at this point. Should the $160,000 needed to repair, install and computerize the organ become available soon, we can proceed rapidly. If funds come slowly, we will do what we can with available funds and proceed when additional funds become available.