The History of the Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1216
Seattle First Baptist purchased an electropneumatic pipe organ of some 38 ranks from the W.W. Kimball Co. in Chicago in 1912, the year our sanctuary was completed. A consultant, Richard Bond, Bond Organ Builders Company of Portland, Oregon, was engaged to evaluate the condition of the Kimball organ. Mr. Bond's assessment revealed failing leathers and electrical components throughout our existing organ. Mr. Bond also recommended addressing some of the organ's tonal deficiencies, which resulted from many tonal alterations through the years. Douglas Cleveland also provided an assessment of the instrument's tonal integrity and a "second opinion" for a tonal plan. Concurring with Mr. Bond's assessment, Mr. Douglas Cleveland recommended major replacements and restoration of the organ at an estimated total cost of approximately $500,000.
In late January, 2007 the committee learned that Bond, recently acquired a 1953 G. Donald Harrison Aeolian-Skinner organ from First Methodist Church of Tacoma, shortly before the church's demolition in October, 2006. (The sanctuaries of First United Methodist and Seattle First Baptist are strikingly similar in vintage and design.
The organ was safely stored in Bond's temperature and humidy controlled storage are at their shop. Richard Bond stated, "This organ, being over 50 years old, needs releathering before it is moved to a new home, but in all other respects is in excellent condition. We were able to see and hear the instrument in its original location and regard it as first class in its installation and tonal finishing. No alterations have been made to any part of the instrument except for installation of a new rectifier in recent years, and addition of a Schulmerich Carillon, probably in the 1950's or 60's."
G. Donald Harrison is considered one of America's most important and influential builders-a "father" of the American Classic Organ. While President and Tonal Director of the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company from 1933-1956, Harrison's work was widely sought and is instruments still rank among some of America's finest including the organs at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Riverside Church in New York, Boston's Church of the Advent, Church of Christ Scientist and Boston Symphony Hall, San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, and the Salt Lake City Tabernacle.
First Methodist's organ was one of few Aeolian-Skinners in the Pacific Northwest (there are no Aeolian-Skinner organs in Seattle) and attracted performers such as Marcel Dupre, E. Power Biggs, Virgil Fox, Catherine Crozier and Alexander Schreiner. Douglas Cleveland, who also concertized on the instrument, remarked on its extraordinary beauty. Tonally unaltered and in excellent condition, this unique instrument will continue to attract the attention of renowned organists, builders and historians nationwide - particularly when housed in one of Seattle's downtown churches, adding diversity and historical significance to Seattle's rich array of exceptional mechanical action instruments.
The consultants considered this organ a "once in a lifetime opportunity." Since posting the organ for sale, Bond Organ Company has reportedly been inundated with offers from around the nation. Mr. Bond has expressed his strong preference, however, for keeping the organ in the Pacific Northwest-particularly if housed in an historic structure such as Seattle First Baptist Church with an active and reputable music program. The committee immediately made an offer contingent on Diaconate approval. The seller accepted the offer this week and Diaconate approved the purchase. Virtually every person who has been involved in this process to date has been amazed and excited by this "miracle" that has happened within the church.
Acting on the recommendation of the Organ Restoration Committee, the Diaconate on March 15, 2007 unanimously approved a rare opportunity to purchase an historic Aeolian-Skinner organ for the SFBC sanctuary. The committee, which has been meeting since January 2007, engaged Richard Bond from Bond Organ Company in Portland and Douglas Cleveland, organist and tonal consultant, to consult on the planned restoration of the organ currently in the sanctuary.
Members of the congregation had the opportunity to contribute to this project in the spring of 2007 with a campaign to raise $150,000 to complete the purchase and meet other related expenses. Organ restoration work on the new instrument tookk about six months and began immediately by Richard Bond in his Portland workshop. The installation process, lasting four to six weeks, begin in October of 2007. Church members also had the opportunity to volunteer to assist in some steps of the installation process.
The committee felt that the pipe organ is an essential component of sacred music central to worship life throughout the history of SFBC and that this new purchase has the potential to sustain and enhance the musical life of SFBC for generations to come. This historic concert organ would not only contribute to worship, but has potential for outreach into the community through concerts by visiting organists. The purchase of this organ promises to initiate a new era in the worship and musical life of Seattle First Baptist Church.
The Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1216 Organ was dedicated at Seattle First Baptist on Sunday, October 21, 2007.
Members: Lee Hart, Russ Kaake, Dee Munday, Renna Pierce, Jan Regier, Bob Sittig, Clyde Sorensen
—Stephen Smith and Jim Ginn, co-chairs, Organ Restoration Committee