LASALLE, Ill. (AP) — 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.