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Crystal Theatre to dismantle historic Moller pipe organ

The Crystal Theatre in Crystal Falls has decided to dismantle its “Mighty Moller” theatre pipe organ it acquired nearly 30 years ago. The theatre’s board of directors said the organ has deteriorated beyond what regular repairs and maintenance can correct and the group can afford.

CRYSTAL FALLS — The Crystal Theatre has decided to bid farewell to its “Mighty Moller” theatre pipe organ, a favorite among patrons since first installed nearly 30 years ago.

In a news release, the theatre’s board of directors said it no longer can justify the considerable expense for repair and maintenance to address the organ’s severe deterioration.

The Moller theatre pipe organ has three keyboards and 21 sets of pipes totaling more than 1,600, ranging in size from half an inch to more than 16 feet in length. In addition, it has a battery of tuned percussion, drums, traps and sound effects installed in two chambers on either side of the proscenium.

It was built by the M.P. Moller Company of Hagerstown, Maryland, and originally installed in the Illinois College of Music in Chicago, where it was used to teach accompaniment and scoring for silent films.

The organ was in storage in Green Bay for several years before coming to Crystal Falls in the late 1980s. It was in need of significant restoration then, so a team of volunteers, led by the late Walter Krajewski, worked on repairs and installation.

The Moller was not the original organ to the theatre, which once had a 1927 Hope Wurlitzer used to accompany silent movies. Once the “talkies” became popular, the organ was sold to a church in Caspian and later moved to Ohio.

The Moller has been costly and difficult to maintain over the years, theatre board members said. Thousands of dollars have been spent in repairs and restoration since its installation — $6,500 in the past couple of years alone to rebuild wind chests and maintain the electronics.

However, because of its age, much of the instrument simply is not salvageable, board members said.

“Last spring, the theatre board hired an organ tuner to get it ready for the upcoming concert,” said Wilma Kallies, president of the theatre board. “It was discovered that the overall condition of the organ and all of its systems had deteriorated to the point that tuning was impossible.”

The board hired Joe Granger, a master organ builder and owner of J. Granger Pipe Organs, to access the condition of the Moeller in August. At that time, he estimated it would cost $200,000 to make it “playable” — just the bare minimum of the organ functioning, Kallies said.

Total restoration could cost as much as $400,000 to $550,000, Granger told the board.

“Sadly, the board has decided that it can no longer maintain the organ,” Kallies said.

But selling the Moller as a whole is not an option, either, as no market now exists for theatre organs, especially one in such condition, she said.

“Granger will help with the dismantling,” she said, “and try to salvage parts that are still usable for sale.”

The board invites those who have additional questions about the organ to its next meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24, in Crystal Theatre’s Stage Left.

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