Broadway United Methodist Church, Indianapolis
Broadway's Trial by Fire
The church was dark. It was a week before Christmas 2017 and the congregation had decorated every corner of the great building. In the sanctuary, dozens of red, white, and pink poinsettias had arranged around the console of the great pipe organ. In the small gallery high above the polished tin pipes a lighted angel cast a glow on the stained glass behind. Under the sanctuary, fellowship hall was festive with garland and lighted Christmas trees.
The day before, our tuning team had finished the first day of a two-day full tuning of both pipe organs, the two-manual 9-rank organ in the chapel and the three-manual 54 rank sanctuary instrument.
Broadway United Methodist Church is one of the great congregations in the inner-city of Indianapolis. Like many big downtown churches, Broadway had been a prosperous church during its "salad days." But demographic changes to the city had caused the numbers to decline as members migrated to the suburbs. Sunday worship in the cavernous sanctuary became increasingly sparsely-attended, and evening activities were abandoned. It looked like Broadway United Methodist Church was experiencing a rapidly-moving death spiral.
But then something happened. The congregation still calls it the "miracle on 29th Street." They made the uncomfortable choice to change. If their building was to be closed, if their congregation was to be disbanded, if Broadway's story was to become history, they would use themselves up in service. The people of Broadway announced that they valued all people, and threw their doors open to all. The neighborhood responded. People of all sorts and from all segments of the community found a spiritual home at the big church on Fall Creek Boulevard. As the church grew, the leadership found new uses for the huge facility - uses that served the needs of the people.
In 2001, as the miracle took hold, Broadway embarking on an ambitious program of renovation. Their first major project was the replacement of the pipe organs in the sanctuary and chapel. Broadway has always been a musical church, with a fine choir, soloists, and instrumentalists. Increasingly, contemporary and ethnic music has become part of the mix as well. Reynolds Associates had cared for the old organs for several years, and when we were asked to design and build new instruments, we were delighted. Since then, both organs had been used every week in worship and the sanctuary organ had been the focus of many concerts and special events.
So this Christmas of 2017, Broadway had much to celebrate - much to be thankful for.
In fellowship hall, an acrid odor began to permeate the darkness. A spark flared, probably around a small plastic transformer, and the plastic tree ignited. As the fire caught, it spread to everything flammable, including the plastic banquet tables and chairs that filled the room. Later, investigators said that the fire had been "oxygen-starved." With windows and doors closed tightly, the fire could not draw enough air to full support it. The result was a particularly sooty fire that was carried to every remote corner of the building. By the time the blaze was discovered and the last remnants extinguished by the Indianapolis Fire Department, the damage had been done. Every inch of every room of Broadway Church was covered with a thick coating of greasy soot.
Inside the organ chambers, all 3,000 pipes were covered inside and out with the soot. Windchests, reservoirs, windlines, nothing was spared in both organs. In the sanctuary, the console looked sooty, but in fact it was completely ruined. The console was directly over huge air exchangers that carried the smoke from fellowhip hall. This smoke and heat poured directly into the console cabinet. When we tried later to lift it out of its pit, it fell to pieces. This soot was very corrosive, and it penetrated all the electronics of the control system as well.
The building had no heat, and most of the electricity was off as well. The only light in the sanctuary came from the solitary angel high in the loft. Somehow, it seemed symbolic.
We were delayed several weeks getting started on the organs. During this time, cold, damp, and soot continued to do their damage. The insurance company had to do its due diligence before approving any work to the instrument. Finally, in late February, we got the go-ahead to begin work to save the organs.
Restoring the chapel organ was the first task, and by far the easiest. We cleaned all the pipes, cleaned and rebuilt the windchests, and replaced the console. By late spring, the chapel could be used again, and the organ was ready soon after.
The sanctuary organ was another matter. Every pipe was cleaned inside and out several times. The soot was stubborn, and a few days after a washing, a sooty haze would reappear. Cleaning out the 16' Pedal Diapason pipes was particularly difficult. These pipes are over sixteen feet long, and were as filthy inside as out. Every piece of wood in the organ had to be solvent-washed and re-lacquered. Every piece of hardware - including thousands of screws, washers, and springs, had to be replaced.
At the same time, our firm already had commitments to other customers along with our regular service and tuning schedule. Meanwhile, professional building restoration services cleaned, scrubbed, and repainted every corner of the building. By Easter of 2019 the church was finally able to resume worship in its sanctuary while work on the organ continued.
Then came 2020. We were making good progress on the organ when the COVID19 pandemic struck. During the spring, we lost ten weeks as both we and the church followed the recommendations put in place by the authorities. When work resumed in the summer, there was a sense of unreality as we found our tools and the parts we were working on where we had left them months before.
We completed the organ on December 17, 2000, three years to the day after the great fire. Broadway United Methodist Church shines now like a new penny, as do both of its pipe organs. Changes to materials covering the floors and ceilings of the sanctuary actually improved the acoustics, but required a number of adjustments to the pipes. At the end of the project, under the direction of David Reynolds, we carefully went through every pipe of every stop in the organ, checking and adjusting the regulation.
Once the pandemic is over and society returns to normal, Broadway plans a rededication of its building and its organs. This series of crises has, if anything, made one of the city's most vital congregations even stronger. We look forward to the big day when we can share Broadway's reborn instruments with the community.
Soli Deo Gloria!
First United Methodist Church, Wabash, IN
A New Pipe Organ in a Historic Setting
Wabash Indiana is a busy town!
This small city, which is only about 18 miles north of our shop, has been busily reinventing itself for nearly ten years. The efforts of the townspeople have paid off, turning Wabash from a sleepy little river town into a bustling center for shopping, manufacturing, and entertainment. Economically, the town is fortunate to be anchored by two companies that feel a strong civic responsibility. As plumbing moved indoors, opportunities came fast in the industry. Edwin Ford founded the Ford Meter Box Company, which pioneered the familiar water meter boxes found along many city streets. Meanwhile, Mark C. Honeywell started a company that allowed home owners to regulate the temperature in their homes. Today, the Honeywell corporation employs over 100,000 people and has annual revenues of over $40 billion.
Both these men were Wabash natives, and the companies they founded continue to support the community. The Honeywell Center, in the heart of the city, is one of Indiana's finest cultural centers.
Just up the street from the Honeywell Center is First United Methodist Church, one of Wabash's oldest. Their building houses a vital, vibrant congregation. As they approached the renovation of their facility, the church contacted Reynolds Associates about their pipe organ.
The original pipe organ in the church was built by William King and Son and housed in a truly magnificent Walnut case. This tracker organ was rebuilt in the 1950s by Earl Bielhartz of Lima, Ohio. Mr. Bielhartz retained many of the original pipes, but electrified the organ and added a third manual. This instrument served the congregation for nearly sixty years, but by the time other parts of the church were needing renovation, the organ too was feeling its age.
One problem was that many of its problems were difficult or impossible to repair. The Bielhartz design for the organ made access to many of the mechanisms impossible without removing large portions of the organ. Even routine tuning was very difficult. In addition, the internal arrangement of the pipes, chests, and swell boxes caused acoustic shadows making the balance of sounds different depending on the location of the listener. Typical of the transitional tonal designs of the time, the "new" sounds of this instrument did not blend effectively with King's original pipes.
Designing the new organ for First Church was a challenge. The main part of the new organ needed to fit in the same space behind the organ case. The church needed a more versatile and complete organ as well.
Our plan for the new organ takes advantage of the vertical space available behind the venerable facade. The Great division is atop the instrument, where its ensemble can speak clearly into the space, perfect for congregational singing and times when the organ's sound should be dominant. Under the Great is the Swell division, encased in a position that is vertically centered in the room. From this position, its more colorful tones can project through horizontal swell shades. Under the Swell, is a small Choir division, also enclosed behind horizontal shades. This is literally a "choir" division, designed specifically to accompany singers on the platform. The choir division is mostly behind the wooden case, but is able to speak out through openings above and behind the singers. This unique design by David Reynolds allows easy access to all the organ's mechanisms for service and to all the pipes for tuning.
A unique aspect of this new instrument is the Echo division, housed in a new organ chamber high in the rear of the room. This ten-rank division is practically an organ in itself, and features unique imitative voices reminiscent of early twentieth century American organs. The Echo division will contain several unusual vintage stops that were built by the Estey Organ Company under the supervision of William Haskell. These stops include a Labial Oboe, strings, and a very rare Cor Glorieux (Saxophone), one of Haskell's most beautiful and effective creations. These pipes were sought and carefully gathered in over a period of two years.
Also planned is the restoration of the facade pipes to their original stenciled designs. Over the years, they had been painted repeatedly - most recently gold. Working with a hand-colored photograph of the original organ, our craftspeople are carefully removing layer after layer of old paint to uncover both the original stencil designs and the original color palette (which is, to say the least, distinctive). The result is going to be spectacular both tonally and visually. The organ will be completed with a new 3 manual terraced drawknob console that will echo the original keydesk design of the organ.
Installation is slated to begin in the fall of 2019, and should be completed in early 2020, with a dedication program planned for the summer.
Update: 2020 has been a wild year for everyone! The project to renovate First United Methodist Church's building ultimately became much bigger and more involved than anybody expected. By the time the church was ready for us to install the new organ, 2019 was over. The new year, of course, was dominated by the Covid19 pandemic. Throughout the year, we have worked on the installation, hampered by all the many effects of the pandemic - effects that have slowed almost everything in the economy. Now, as Christmas approaches, most of the organ is playing.
After much consideration, the organ committee has decided to redecorate the facade pipes adhering as much as possible to the original design. When the paint was removed from these pipes (5 coats of paint!), the original designs reappeared on the zinc pipe bodies. Now the pipes have been repaired and are ready to decorate by our master pipemaker, Oyster Pipeworks. Once the final color decisions have been made, the pipes will be painted in the classic Victorian style and reinstalled on the magnificent American walnut case.
Sometimes, good things take time, but the Wabash organ is coming together nicely. We can't wait to complete this beautiful new Reynolds instrument!