Team works to rescue Ford Auditorium’s vintage pipe organ before the Detroit building is demolished
DETROIT FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
They say it’s a labor of love.
Nearly a dozen people — professional musicians, organ technicians and a church leader — are doing in one week what normally would take nearly two months: removing the nearly 5-ton Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ from Ford Auditorium before the building is demolished next month.
The organ, made up of 2,800 wooden and metal pipes ranging from 6 inches to 32 feet tall, is being taken apart, piece by piece, and will be rebuilt and restored at St. Aloysius Catholic Church in downtown Detroit.
“This is an emergency rescue,” St. Aloysius director of music Aaron Kaleniecki said.
The organ is expected to cost about $250,000 to restore and install at St. Alyosius. If new, it would cost about $2 million.
“When a historical organ like this is saved, restored and installed, it generates quite a bit of interest,” Kaleniecki said.
Those working to remove the organ acknowledge their method may not be the ideal way, but say time is not on their side, in part, because asbestos had to be removed from the building, which delayed their start. And they have a July 5 deadline to get it out of there.
The church agreed to raise money to install the organ if the city donated it, Kaleniecki said.
“I’m glad it’s going to be put to good use and kept here,” City Council President Charles Pugh said.
Razing the building is part of Mayor Dave Bing’s plan to revitalize Detroit’s waterfront. Demolition is expected to cost $750,000 and should start in early July, mayoral spokesman Dan Lijana said.
Detroit Symphony Orchestra member Brian Ventura and about eight others have been working to remove the organ since late last week, and more people will be brought in to work around the clock, if needed, to get it done on time.
Ventura has played the oboe with the DSO for 23 years, and the sound of the organ that once played at Ford Auditorium stuck with him.
“It’s extremely memorable,” he said. “It just rings throughout the auditorium.”
The organ is in good company: It was built by Aeolian-Skinner, the same company that built the Mormon Tabernacle organ, as well as organs at the Boston Symphony Hall and the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York, according to Rick Helderop, owner of Helderop Pipe Organs in Detroit.
It also has been played by some of the world’s best organists. Marcel Deprè, the organist at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, dedicated the organ in 1957
“It’s had a very distinguished life, and we want to continue that,” Helderop said.
The plan is to have the organ running at St. Aloysius within two years.
A smaller organ with 1,200 pipes built at the same time and played by the same console already was removed and will go to the DSO to be used for music of the 17th and 18th Centuries, Ventura said.
“These are very valuable and historically important instruments,” he said. “These things are musical treasures.”
Contact Elisha Anderson: 313-222-5144 or eanderson99