November 2018 TAO Cover Story

St. Paul’s Memorial United Methodist Church
South Bend, Indiana
Berghaus Pipe Organ Builders Inc. • Bellwood, Illinois
View an enlarged cover
Stop List

By Jonathan Oblander

Situated on the corner of Colfax and LaPorte avenues in South Bend, the Gothic St. Paul’s Memorial United Methodist Church was designed by architect S.R. Badgely and dedicated on March 15, 1903. The church and furnishings were generously funded by the Clem Studebaker family, whose wagon and then automobile manufacturing business operated for 115 years. Although Clem Studebaker helped lay the cornerstone of the church in 1901, he unfortunately died before seeing its completion. However, he is memorialized as a member of the crowd listening to the apostle Paul preach in Athens, as depicted in a large stained glass window designed by Franz Mayer & Company of Munich that graces the west wall.

Listen to the organ:

The early 20th century was an innovative time for organbuilding all over the country, as artisans strove to create instruments with the latest technology that would fascinate a healthy and demanding marketplace. Patents were continually granted to those who developed ways to expand the possibilities of how a pipe organ could function (chest action), where it could be placed (remote antiphonal and echo divisions), and how it could be played (combination action and custom controls). One of these innovators was Robert J. Bennett (1864–1938). At some point while Mr. Bennett was head of the pipe organ department at Lyon & Healy in Chicago, he developed his own thoughts on chest action, known then as the “Bennett System.” In 1902, he left to join Octavius Marshall, who oversaw the Lancaster-Marshall Organ Company of Moline, Illinois. Although he would not be formally listed as a managing partner until August 1903, organs from that firm immediately bore his stamp from a tonal and mechanical perspective. The 1902 organ at St. Paul’s Memorial was no different, and it was a worthy example of the company’s craftsmanship. However, through the years, different builders made many modifications, and not always successfully.

In 2016, St. Paul’s Memorial invited several builders to come and inspect the organ and to provide recommendations for improvement. At first glance, the organ maintained an elegant facade, but the reality found within told a completely different story. Parts of the electropneumatic chests had been removed and replaced with electromechanical valves. Massive holes in reservoir gussets and ill-fitting windlines starved the winding system for air. Bass pipes that had become ciphering notes over the years were carelessly tipped out of their holes in such a way that the weight of the body tore the solder seams by the languid. Many ranks had been altered by mysteriously substituting pipes from other sets, perhaps as an attempt to “fix” a voicing issue. The console also dragged along for years without a reliable combination action, and the organist had to set combinations on a setter board located inside the case!

(before) Swell pipework

(before) Ruptured reservoir

(after) 16′ Open Diapason

All of these issues together made our team wonder how this organ was used at all; however, conversations with members of St. Paul’s made it evident that the church did not intend to completely throw out what was still their beloved instrument. Many recalled the thrilling and inspiring voice it once had, and wanted to have that musical memory renewed. While a historical restoration was not possible, a workable plan was drawn up to restore what we could and to replace the rest.

Berghaus decided that all winding and wiring components had reached the end of their useful lives, and we made the decision to replace them with all-new custom-built electric slider and electropneumatic chests. We designed a completely new winding system, from blower to internal schwimmers, to give each division the most efficient support. The former instrument had all manual divisions under expression. In the new arrangement, the Great was brought forward and became unenclosed, while the Swell and Choir were housed in new enclosures constructed of 1¾”-thick tongue-and-groove poplar. Two 16-stage electric shade motors control the louvers, which are made of the same material as the boxes. The Great and Choir are on Berghaus electric slider chests with internal schwimmers, while the Swell reeds and 16′ Gedeckt are on electropneumatic chests, which allows them to be voiced on a slightly higher wind pressure. Because of the unified nature of the Pedal, we decided to place those stops on electropneumatic chests as well, and they are arranged to flank the manual divisions.

Choir pipework

Looking at the stoplist, one could characterize the tonal signature of the St. Paul’s organ as typical of ecclesiastical organs built in the United States around the turn of the 20th century. Full-throated diapasons, characteristically keen strings, dark and full reeds, and dominating, as well as diminutive, flute stops are all here. The three-rank Plein Jeu was a welcome addition to bolster the chorus during hearty hymn singing or for postludes.

With the intention of preserving the overall tonal palette in this particular case, Berghaus set out to restore the stops that were still singing to good voice and to replace those that could not be saved. We performed hundreds of hours of repair to restore original pipework, and carefully chose replacement pipes to match the construction and character of the original. We painstakingly cleaned all pipework, installed new slide tuners, and performed countless hours of remedial voicing in our Bellwood shop, primarily correcting pipe speech to aid in tonal finishing at the church.

In the end, we installed only one new rank of pipes, a wood Flute Celeste for the Choir that undulates with the Melodia. The organ contains eleven ranks of replacement pipework from vintage sources. It is a welcome challenge for us at Berghaus to be able to reassign a set of vintage pipes to live once again with a new musical family. With careful planning and voicing, the results can be very satisfying.

Of special significance in this project was the restoration of the elaborate 1902 mahogany case and gilded facade from the Pedal 16′ Violone and Great 8′ Open Diapason. In the original layout, the Violone basses had been placed right behind the facade where only their tops could be seen. We decided to offset these pipes on opposite sides of the organ instead. During the removal, we discovered that the pipes had originally been gilded, but later painted over with a dull gold-colored paint. At our shop, the facade pipes were completely stripped down to bare metal, and new 23K gold leaf was applied along with a clear sealant.

Great pipework

The all-new English-style drawknob console is constructed of cherry with burled walnut accents. The Peterson ICS-4000 combination action and switching system provides the organist with 256 memory levels, general and divisional pistons, reversibles, twelve-step transposer, piston sequencer, and record/playback capabilities. Concealed casters allow the console to be moved around the choir gallery. Tracker-touch keyboards are made of resin, and pedal keys are made from maple. New adjustable LED lighting as well as an adjustable crank bench were also provided.

After 5,000 hours of construction, the organ was installed over the course of three months and voiced from mid-October to early November 2017. Dedication of the instrument was celebrated on April 6, 2018, with a special blessing by Pastor Tom Thewes and a recital by Jonathan Oblander, who performed works of Bach, Schubert, Saint-Saëns, Shearing, and Guilmant. Hundreds of attendees, including members of the Studebaker family, warmly received the instrument.

Berghaus is thankful to Mary Morony, who referred us to the church, Pat Vann and the other local installation assistants, and for the extraordinary contributions of time, talent, and treasure by the St. Paul’s Memorial community, particularly Carol Thie, Joe Lightner, Tom Cooper, Howard Emmons, Jerry Aufrance, and Pastor Tom Thewes.

View of the sanctuary with original stained glass window designed by Franz Mayer & Company (Munich)


Jonathan Oblander is tonal director of Berghaus Pipe Organ Builders.

Project members
Brian D. Berghaus, president
Nick Berghaus, organbuilder
Katie Belmonte, administrative assistant
Mitch Blum, service technician and pipe repair specialist
Steve Bridges, organbuilder
Dan Dow, organbuilder
Steven Hoover, tonal finisher and reed specialist
Michal Leutsch, designer
Kurt Linstead, senior service technician
Patrick Melvin, organbuilder
Kelly Monette, head tonal finisher and operations manager
Jonathan Oblander, tonal director and tonal finisher
Jean O’Brien, vice president
Joseph Poland, service manager
Ray Sargent, organbuilder and technician
Jordan Smoots, console specialist and senior organbuilder

Karen Willden (Decorative Artistry, Schaumburg, Ill.), pipe gilder
Photography: Alan Damian

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