Silent movie, masquerade ball to showcase, fund church organ restoration

Photo by Sue Suchyta Allen Park Presbyterian Church sexton Randall Nicholls says proceeds from the silent movie and masquerade ball fundraiser will help defray the cost of past and much needed future repairs to the church organ.

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Allen Park Presbyterian Church sexton Randall Nicholls says proceeds from the silent movie and masquerade ball fundraiser will help defray the cost of past and much needed future repairs to the church organ.

ALLEN PARK – Music from a partially restored 1909 Aeolian organ will enhance the 1925 classic silent film “The Phantom of the Opera” during a fundraiser Oct. 24 at Allen Park Presbyterian Church, 7101 Park Ave.

Organist David Hufford will accompany the silent film, followed by refreshments and a Victorian masquerade ball — featuring waltz music — in the church social hall.

Proceeds will help defray recent and much-needed future repairs to the organ.

Suggested donation to attend is $15, and Victorian costumes for the masquerade are encouraged but not required.

For more information, call the church at 313-383-0100 during business hours.

Church sexton and fundraiser committee member Randall Nicholls of Allen Park said the total repair estimate is $500,000, and $290,000 has been raised to date. Of that, $100,000 was an insurance settlement when, in July 2013, the church was struck by lightning and a grounding wire in close proximity to an organ electrical box damaged it.

Nicholls said fiber optics not susceptible to similar lightning damage have replaced the older components.

Nicholls said while electrical repairs are complete, the organ needs re-leathering, and some of the organ’s pipes need repair.

Leathering refers to the small, thin leather membrane circles that make electrical contacts, move stop knobs or tabs, and open valves under pipes. As leather ages it becomes weak and brittle, and develops holes and tears, resulting in dead or stuck notes.

Some of the original wooden organ pipes are missing and need replacement, and some metal pipes are warped. Other pipes, damaged and worn from years of tuning, are wrapped with electrical tape.

In the 1960s there was a product used for pipe repairs, Nicholls said, that now has caused the pipes to look as if they are melting.

Nicholls, who attended the church from the age of 10, said the organ is near and dear to his heart.

“This organ is rare,” he said. “You don’t find an organ like this at every church. It is something very special.”

The church sanctuary has a chancel organ on the main floor and an antiphonal organ in the balcony, playable from the main floor. Music resonates from 2,700 pipes, housed in the balcony and on both sides at the front of the sanctuary.

The organ on the main floor is an Opus 1110, built in 1909 by the Aeolian Co. It was a showroom model until 1929, when Ross Whitcomb Judson, founder and president of Continental Motor Co., purchased it for $18,500 and moved it to his Grosse Pointe Park mansion.

In 1959, the new owners of the home, the E.F. McDonald family, donated the organ to the church. Parishioners added the antiphonal organ in 1962.

Elder Robert Morton, a 70-year church member, said his favorite organ memories include his wedding, his two daughters’ weddings, and hearing the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah” at Christmas time.

Nicholls encourages the public to hear the organ accompany the silent movie Oct. 24 and stay for the ball, which will be the second they have held.

“It’s so much fun; it’s just a good time,” Nicholls said. “I really hope that people come so we can show off the organ, then everyone will move over to (the social hall) for the reception, dancing and socializing.”

Committee member Katherine Lieblang, 19, of Dearborn, said she encourages young adults to attend the fundraiser.

“It’s a fun reason to get very formal, but it’s not stuffy,” Lieblang said. “It is fun, it is creepy, it is a good way to do something that people do not do anymore and have a mysterious, Halloween-themed masquerade ball. That’s part of the attraction – it’s not as common.”