Iowa City organ, under restoration, to be moved to St. Andrew

$1.7 million organ was damaged during 2008 flood

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A treasured Iowa City instrument will have a future after being saved from its condemned location in the final weeks before demolition.

A couple dozen volunteers assisted the Dobson Organ Co. in the dismantling and removal of the Casavant Opus 3105 pipe organ from the 2008 flood-damaged Clapp Recital Hall, in the Hancher-Voxman-Clapp complex on the University of Iowa campus, in a little over two weeks.

The organ, which has a replacement value of $1.7 million, is now at Dobson’s Lake City facility for restoration and storage until it can take its place at St Andrew Presbyterian Church’s new location in Iowa City.

After discussions that included the possibility of selling the organ’s 3,796 pipes for scrap metal, Peterson Contractors Inc. donated the instrument to St. Andrew where it's set to be installed in 2015, when the church’s new location is finished.

“It wasn’t looked at like ‘we scored a really big organ,’” recalled Matthew Penning, St Andrew’s director of Music Ministries. “But as an opportunity to connect with the university and the larger community.”

The process of removal, restoration and reinstallation will cost around $400,000, an amount for which the church will hold fundraisers in the upcoming months.

Carroll Hanson, of Casavant, a Montreal-based organ manufacturer, was part of the team that installed the organ in Clapp Hall in 1972. At the time, it was the largest mechanical action pipe organ at a U.S. university.

Hanson also was in charge of its maintenance during the 36 years it was in operation. It one of the most heavily used Casavant organs, with many weeks seeing more than 100 hours of use until the hall was flooded in 2008, Hanson recalled.

“The instrument really came through the 40-some years in that room looking pretty darn good,” Hanson said.

“I was delighted that it was going to have a happy future. It would have been a flat-out scandal had it been destroyed.”

Penning, who volunteered alongside church and community members to get the organ removed in time, said the dismantling process was incredibly smooth, with no damage incurred — especially considering the hot weather and intermittent power losses during the work.

“It’s fun to hear people say on Sundays that they’re excited, telling me, ‘Just wait until you’ll be able to play that piece on the new instrument,’” Penning said. “And that excitement will grow as it becomes more real.”

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