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Detour to 1904

June 9, 2007 | 10:39 am



1906_eben_smith Saturday's New York Times features an article by Craig R. Whitney about the enormous pipe organ at Macy's in Philadelphia, a massive instrument from the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair that was built in Los Angeles.

And indeed, the Los Angeles Times wrote about the achievement of the Los Angeles Art Organ Co. of East 7th Street, noting that once it was installed it would be the world's largest pipe organ.

"It is a church itself in size," The Times said, "as large as a four-story dwelling house, 30 feet wide and 63 feet long. Climbing about in it, one is almost lost in the maze of stairways, ladders, pipes and bellows."

Some of the pipes were 50 feet long and weighed 1,500 pounds each, The Times said.

In a performance by Arthur Scott-Brook of Stanford, the building was  "shaken to the foundations by the notes of this organ." In a preview for ministers and reporters, "a goodly representation was present during the afternoon and stood spellbound while the heavy chords vibrated through the immense room, causing little thrills to creep up and down the spines of the listeners."

In addition to a keyboard console, the organ was equipped with an automatic player. "The rolls of paper are first stenciled and are then cut by hand," The Times said. "One piece of music for this organ makes a roll about two feet in diameter."

Unfortunately, the principal stockholder, Eben Smith, died in 1906 and the massive organ and several other instruments built by the Los Angeles Art Organ Co. were subject to bitter legal actions.  The Times reported in 1907 that title to three expensive organs moldering in a Los Angeles warehouse had passed to the Wirsching Organ Co. of Salem, Ore., noting that a patent infringement lawsuit had prevented delivery of the instruments to purchasers.

Information on the Wanamaker Organ is here.
Friends of the Wanamaker Organ is here.

Bonus fact: Eben Smith was a remarkable character who made a fortune in mining, then invested heavily in wireless telegraphy, seeing it as the dawn of a new era in communications.

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