Transplanted pipe organ to undergo renovation

By Brenda Maguire

At a bygone time when New Britain residents were drawn to the mills for work, in 1926 to be specific, the Austin Pipe Organ Opus 1457 made the Strand Theater its home.

The theater, on land downtown now occupied by Central Connecticut State University, adjacent to the police station under construction, was one of the biggest movie theaters in New England, seating more than 2,000 people.

But now, many years later and with the theater since razed, the organ’s home is just over 100 miles away at the Original Congregational Church in Wrentham, Mass., where it’s about to undergo a $79,000 renovation of the pipe chamber, the room behind the altar that holds the majority of the organ’s pipes.

“The pipe chamber is out of sight, and therefore out of mind,” said Bill Wallhausser, head of the church committee to restore the organ.

He said the paint and plaster in the room have been peeling and deteriorating because the room has not had a new paint job since 1906, long before the organ was installed in 1946.

“Chances are that it’s going to fall into one of the open pipes,” Wallhausser said.

Additionally, all 970 pipes of the organ will be sent to Foley-Baker Inc., an organ repair company out of Tolland, for a cleaning and to plug leaks.

The church is now raising money for the project after a unanimous vote by the congregation to move ahead with the renovations. Fundraising may include recitals at the church with an entrance fee.

“I was amazed we had no resistance,” Wallhausser said, adding, “That just speaks to the music program here and how much people love it.”

But perhaps of more interest to New Britain is that the church is beginning a project to find noteworthy historical performances of the organ during its time in the Hardware City.

Wallhausser speculates the organ could have accompanied famous vaudeville shows or opera companies in addition to providing a soundtrack for silent movies.

To donate to the renovations or to provide information about the organ’s stay in New Britain contact Heather Kent at (508) 384-3110.

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