Fire can do great damage to an organ. The intense heat from the fire will destroy pipes. The wood case will burn. Sprinkler systems are also equally damaging. Adding water to the mix usually causes more damage to the wood parts of the organ than the fire.
General recommendations by the organ building industry state that it is better to let an organ burn than to have a sprinkler system in and above the organ. If the fire is contained and extinguished, some parts can be salvaged. Of course, if the fire is not caught in time, the entire organ can be destroyed. However, the risks of sprinkler systems malfunctioning and causing water damage when there is no fire is greater than the risk of losing the entire organ. In addition, fire codes mandate that sprinkler systems be tested periodically and there is no way to test a system that is above an organ without damamging the organ.
We had always known these principles but had never expected one of our instruments to be in a fire. After receiving news that our Opus 34 had been badly damaged in a fire at St. Anne’s R.C. Church in Oswego, IL, we had an opportunity to see how our organ had survived. Much of the casework was charred but still holding together. Many pipes, especially metal pipes, were damaged beyond repair. The intense heat from the fire had discolored the pipes and made them brittle (see photo at right). It was painful to see a once beautiful instrument in such poor condition.
Without hesitation, St. Anne’s expressed their intention to rebuild their church and organ. In the process of planning the new building, they decided to expand the organ. Our restoration became a rebuilding project. Some of the old casework was restorable and found new life in Opus 102. Some pipes were salvageable. New pipes were added to increase the scaling of the retained ranks of pipes to fulfill our goal to have a larger sound for the new larger church. St. Anne’s wanted to use as much of the old organ as possible for sentimental reasons and we agreed with this approach.
Year of commission 1985
Lost to fire in 2000, rebuilt in 2001 as Opus 102.
The organ at first was placed in the front, centered behind the altar. Some months later Martin Ott moved the organ to the front right of the altar. The casework is made of red oak and the console keydesk is attached.
In 2000 the church burned and the organ was heavily damaged. In 2001 we received the commission to rebuild and enlarge the damaged organ. The new instrument is our Opus 102 with 25 stops & 32 ranks.
At the height of the inferno, the fire fighters opened the roof above the organ to get access to the fire to extinguish it. In addition to the excessive heat, water caused additional damage to the organ. We trucked the remains to our shop in St. Louis and let the organ parts dry out. It was a surprise how well the interior parts of the organ survived the brutal fire and water. We were able to restore and reuse part of the casework, all wind chests, keyboards and some pipework for the new instrument our Opus 102.