Historic Memorial Auditorium organ to get facelift

Published: Mar. 4, 2011 at 4:19 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 4, 2011 at 10:51 PM EST
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Tim Baker, Pres. William H. Bauer Foundation
Tim Baker, Pres. William H. Bauer Foundation
Samuel Bowerman, Organ Restorer
Samuel Bowerman, Organ Restorer
Memorial Auditorium
Memorial Auditorium

By Chris McGill - bio | email

LOUISVILLE (WAVE) - Louisville's Memorial Auditorium has hosted some of the brightest stars in Hollywood over its eighty-plus year history including Bette Davis, Myrna Loy and many other famous actors. It's also the home of the world's largest Pilcher pipe organ. But time has taken its toll on the one-of-a-kind instrument and now an effort is underway to save this historic piece of Louisville history.

Tim Baker, President of the William H. Bauer Foundation, is spear heading the effort to restore the historical pipe organ. And his love for the instrument goes back to his teen years.

"My friend and I have been down here (Memorial Auditorium) since we were sixteen-years-old working on this instrument and keeping it going, because if you don't play them, they die."

The organ was built by Henry Pilcher's Sons and is listed as the largest of its kind in the world. Unveiled on Memorial Day 1929 for Memorial Auditorium's grand opening, the pipe organ has been played by some of the greatest organists of all time.

Baker says, "I feel honored just to sit on this bench, the same place that so many world famous organists have spent time here as well and they loved the instrument."

The restoration has to be divided into several phases. The leather inside the organ is over eighty years old, but the biggest hurdle is the electrical system, which is the heart of the organ. Parts alone are estimated to be over $40,000. But the cost of repairing the organ is going to be free. Thanks to labor of love by organ restorer Samuel Bowerman.

"I wanted to make sure that we at least started this under some kind of supervision that I could be part of," says Bowerman, who also used to work on the organ along with Baker years ago.

Time is of the essence when it comes to repairing the organ. Bowerman estimates it will take between five-hundred and six-hundred hours to restore the organ to its original condition. That time includes refurbishing all of the 6,000-plus hand made pipes that make up the organ.

"They're all hand soldered, all the metal has to be cut, metal has to be cast, wood has to be planed , they have to be rolled up on the mandrills (and) the seams have to be all soldered together," says Bowerman.

When the job is finally finished, Bowerman says "we're going to crank it up wide open! You think it's something now, if that ever gets done, watch out!"

Thanks to donations enough money has been raised to at least start the renovation on this organ. The electrical system will be the first part to be restored with the rest of the organ following as more money is raised. Currently Baker says that they hope to have the organ back to perform for guests in the Fall. Although enough money has come in to start renovations, they still have a long way to go. If you would like to help, you can donate to the William Bauer Foundation courtesy of Memorial Auditorium, 970 S. 4th Street in Louisville.

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