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LASALLE — An unused musical instrument at La Salle-Peru Township High School has been found to be one of the school's most precious items.How precious? Experts say the organ by today's standards is valued at more than $1 million."The organ is the second most valuable item we own in the district," said superintendent Steve Wrobleski during a meeting of the school board's buildings and grounds committee April 24.The only items more valuable are the actual school buildings, he said.After a storm last year caused water damage to the organ, located in Matthiessen Auditorium, a study was conducted to determine the level of damage for an insurance claim.That study performed by Chicago-based organ curator and conservationist Jeff Weiler's company uncovered more than was expected.The report revealed that the 1929 pipe organ was custom built by Aeolian Co., which at that time was "the largest manufacturer of musical instruments in the world" and known to craft "famous, very expensive" and high quality organs.It was built of quality materials no longer available to organ builders and a replacement with modern materials would cost an estimated $1.5 million, according to Weiler's report."We hasten to add, however, that this figure is misleading: the La Salle-Peru Township Aeolian cannot be duplicated today at any price," Weiler wrote.A museum-quality restoration of the organ would take roughly two years and cost about $450,000, according to the report.While such an undertaking may eventually be financed through long-term capital development fundraising, the board agreed to include a basic repair project in an upcoming grant application to at least make the organ functional for the time being.That project has an estimated cost of $22,436. The insurance claim resulting from the storm damage will cover about $15,000, Wrobleski said.L-P's building and grounds director Don Soberalski said an old and potentially dangerous 440-volt power line running to the organ will be replaced with a safer alternative that conforms to modern electrical codes.The board hopes to have Weiler attend its June meeting to describe the condition of the organ and the possible restoration.Until then, Weiler's report offers a striking look into the history, design and condition of the organ.The organ's console is on a moveable platform near the stage, but the organ's components are spread throughout the auditorium.
The two organ chambers "contain 2,120 pipes, a 20-note set Deagan Cathedral Chimes, and - one of the great glories of the instrument — a 61-note Aeloian Harp/Celesta," according to the report, which also noted that the chime tubes and metal harp bars were made by the J.C. Deagan Co. of Chicago and are "among the finest in the world," Weiler wrote.The organ was donated to the school by Edna Matthiessen, who along with Adele Blow, donated the majority of the original $600,000 construction cost for the auditorium, according to previous NewsTribune coverage.While the organ may have once been a "work of art" Weiler argues that despite previous assumptions it appears the organ was never properly restored over the past 83 years."The console has been poorly rebuilt and is now falling to pieces," he wrote.The report includes descriptions of rare and valuable pieces that were presumably discarded over the years, as well as filthy, dust-laden organ chambers and poorly performed renovations."The organ shows no sign of having received regular care of any kind," the report states.Originally, the organ console would have held "beautifully crafted electro-pneumatic components," but at some point in time "this was gutted and a hodgepodge of solid state devices were crudely substituted. The wiring appears to have been done by amateurs causing us to postulate if it had been entrusted to a student as a summer project."On the upside, many of the pipes — some of which are two-stories tall — are located in the organ loft high above the stage, which happens to be a blessing in disguise. Since the area is difficult to access it appears there has been little meddling with the pipes, leaving them in excellent condition, although "very dirty."The pipes are made of various materials, such as soft metal alloys, zinc and "well-seasoned California Sugar Pine with maple caps."Despite the pipes' condition, the organ can't be played.A NewsTribune article written in 2002 during a renovation of the auditorium's lighting system shows the organ was used occasionally at that time. Yet when Weiler and his team attempted to play it they had poor results."When any stop was drawn, great clusters of pipes played as if the organ was shrieking in pain," he wrote, explaining that such a disturbance was likely caused by water damage to electrical wires in the main console cables.There is a silver lining behind the grey clouds of disregard. Weiler's team apparently found organ repair proposals in the school's archives that could have left the organ in worse condition than it is currently in had they been approved."Although the organ is now but a shadow of what it was, it is completely restorable," he wrote.
La Salle-Peru Township High School Board will hear more about the school’s million dollar organ in June.Superintendent Steve Wrobleski said Jeff Weiler, a Chicago-based organ curator and conservationist who previously prepared a study on the 83-year-old organ, will address the school board on Wednesday, June 20.Weiler’s original report noted that the pipe organ, which suffered water damage in a storm last year, was “extremely rare and has national significance.”While a “museum-quality restoration” could take two years and about $450,000 to complete, the school board has applied for a state maintenance grant to cover the costs associated with a roughly $22,436 project to make the organ functional.Wrobleski said the board is still waiting to hear if they receive the grant.The school board meets at 6 p.m. in the school library.Matthew Baker can be reached at (815) 220-6933 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Expert: L-P's Aeolian organ of national importance
It turns out La Salle-Peru Township High School has something in common with great philanthropists and millionaires in American history, families with names such as Rockefeller, Du Pont, Woolworth and Carnegie.What connects them all is owning an Aeolian Co. organ.On Wednesday night the school board heard more about the school’s custom-made pipe organ, which was built in 1929 at the “zenith” of Aeolian’s instrument manufacturing.“The Aeolian organ is the crown jewel of your auditorium, an incredible asset to art in Illinois and indeed one of the most important pipe organs in the United States,” said Jeff Weiler, whose Chicago-based company focuses on pipe organ conservation.Although a few stray notes have been played on the organ occasionally in recent years, years of disregard have left it in poor shape.“Unfortunately, the organ can no longer be used as a result of recent floods,” said Weiler, who was brought in to inspect the organ after storms last year caused water damage to the organ’s wiring.The organ’s console has suffered the greatest damage over the years.“The beautifully crafted insides have been gutted,” Weiler said.For unknown reasons the internal mechanisms, which could have been “easily restored,” had a “hodge-podge of electronic equipment …casually tacked on.”“All the pipes are beautifully crafted and almost all are in excellent condition although they are quite dirty,” Weiler said.Documents show the organ has received numerous cleanings and restoration work over the years, although Weiler said that based on his examination of the organ no worthwhile restoration work occurred. Additionally, some organ components, including a spool box used to automatically play paper music scrolls — of which the district still has a large collection — went missing at some point.“I have a number of questions that I’m going to be asking,” superintendent Steve Wrobleski said, referring to the company who had performed the work.Despite the current condition, the organ could be brought back to its original quality, in fact “it’s a restorer’s dream,” Weiler said.“It’s enviable, it’s important and it’s something that could once again become a vital part of the arts community, not only locally, not only regionally, but indeed for the entire country — it’s that important,” he said.The cost of restoration, though, is far from a dream.As previously reported, Weiler said a museum-quality restoration could take two years and cost roughly $450,000.“The good news is that sort of restoration work only needs to be done once every 80 years,” he said.A full restoration may be a long way off, but the school board agreed to take steps necessary to making the organ functional again.“It’s too nice of an asset and it’s cultural and we can’t leave that go. We have to maintain that,” board member Al Cherpeske said.The board plans to use money from an insurance claim and a state maintenance grant to perform roughly $30,000 in work to repair wiring and restore some of the other damage. During Wednesday’s meeting the board approved a plan to apply to the state for permission to use health/life/safety funds to cover the matching portion of the state grant.“It’s a first baby step toward where we want to go,” said board member Rick Sipovic.To reach that final goal, Wrobleski said a capital campaign will likely be needed to raise funds with support from the community.“The district cannot afford $450,000. It’s going to come from, I think, enlisting the support of people that understand and appreciate the value of an instrument that clearly that we have in our auditorium,” Wrobleski said.It’s one thing to restore it for it’s historical value, he said, but the district will also have to consider how to best use and take advantage of the organ once it’s restored.“I would envision really making this a showpiece,” Wrobleski said.He is already considering a possible concert series or other events to maximize the use of the organ and promote the school’s musical asset.“People from all over the world would come here to hear it. That I can guarantee you,” Weiler said.Already the news of the organ’s origins and status has spread around the country and even to Australia and continental Europe, he said. “Today Aeolian organs are regarded as cultural icons. The La Salle-Peru Aeolian has national importance. It is irreplaceable,” Weiler said.
“It’s too nice of an asset and it’s cultural and we can’t leave that go. We have to maintain that,” board member Al Cherpeske said.“People from all over the world would come here to hear it. That I can guarantee you,” Weiler said.Already the news of the organ’s origins and status has spread around the country and even to Australia and continental Europe, he said.