Restoration Begins on Brucemore Organ

By Brady Smith, Reporter

From left, JL Weiler, Inc., project manager Steve Grigoletti, technician Caleb Cassidy and owner Jeff Weiler move an organ relay down the attic stairs at Brucemore on Monday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Cedar Rapids. The Skinner organ, Opus 754, was installed at Brucemore in 1929 and is beginning the first of three stages of a multi-year restoration. The blower and relay, which Jeff Weiler compares to the lungs and the brain of the organ, will be restored at Weiler's Chicago workshop and reinstalled in the attic blower room as the first stage of the restoration, for which Brucemore is raising funds to complete. The next stages will include restoration of the pipework and pipe mechanics, which are on the third floor of the mansion, and the console on the first floor. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Brady Smith

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - One of the centerpieces of historic Brucemore Mansion is its Skinner pipe organ, installed in 1929. On Tuesday, a restoration company from Chicago began the long process of taking its multiple components out of the mansion.

"The Skinner organ is the voice of Brucemore," said Jeff Weiler, president of JL Weiler, Incorporated.

"There is a very large turbine blower which furnishes the wind for the organ," Weiler explained, showing us where the blower rested in the attic of Brucemore, a place members of the public rarely see. In addition to lungs and vocal chords, the organ has its own brain - essentially, an early binary computer, according to Weiler. "The infrastructure of the organ extends through ceilings and walls and crawlspaces."

Before Weiler can bring the pieces back to their original condition, he and his team had to get them down through tightly-packed corners and narrow staircases. The part that fit in Brucemore's tiny elevator - to project manager Steven Grigoletti's relief - was its heart. It's an electrical motor with a skin of cast iron and guts of tightly-packed wires.

"It's 400 or 450 pounds," said Grigoletti. "We just guess. That's what it feels like."

The job also took a little mental dexterity, as the team had to avoid damaging priceless artifacts on the way down.

"When we remove these things, a lot of times the churches are foreclosed on, or abandoned or burned out," said Grigoletti.

It's tough work, but Weiler is thankful that the people who built the organ did it with foresight.

"One of the greatest things about these instruments is that they were built with a mind toward their eventual restoration," Weiler told us.

Executive director of Brucemore David Janssen said the Skinner organ is an artifact that sets Brucemore apart from other historic sites, with the power to transport visitors to a different time.

"The organ gives us the opportunity to hear the kinds of music that they were listening to in the same media that they were listening to it, and it can be a very powerful experience," Janssen said. He told us that the entire restoration, which will be done in three phases, could take 3 to 5 years.

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