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Organ Projects: Schoenstein & Co., Seventh Avenue Presbyterian

May 24, 2023
Estey Opus 2866
Estey Opus 2866 (photo credit: Louis Patterson)

Schoenstein & Co., Benicia, California

Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church, San Francisco, California

It is always an honor to rebuild a historic instrument from a celebrated firm. The story of this Estey organ involves passionate advocates and smart designers. The result is an organ that has been providing a great musical benefit to the church for nearly a century.

Estey Opus 2886 was installed at Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church in San Francisco in 1930 by Felix F. Schoenstein & Sons. Strapped by financial woes of the Great Depression, the church had limited resources and struggled to pay for what little organ they could buy. They needed only the most practical instrument, leaving no room for any specialty stops. They needed an organ that was beautiful and useful.

James B. Jamison, then sales representative for Estey, devised a stoplist focusing on 8′ tone and power through reeds. The voices and scales were chosen carefully to create ensembles that stand on their own. Jamison speaks to the success of these choices in a letter to his colleagues at Estey. He says that when drawing the diapasons alone with Cornopean coupled at 16′-8′-4′, “. . . you get an effect that should cost $10,000. . . . It really is exceptional.” In addition to the carefully chosen voices, the organ is entirely enclosed for maximum versatility.

After Jamison finished the organ, letters show the church loved its beautiful tone from the first hearing. That love continues to the present day, and when Mary Morganti, a member of the congregation and professional archivist, heard the organ, she knew she wanted to help care for it. Her advocacy on its behalf, coupled with the steadfast support of longtime lead pastor Jeff Gaines and director of liturgical music Luba Kravchenko, led to a restoration project for the aging organ to bring it back to top condition.

As part of her growing interest in Estey Opus 2886, Morganti traveled to the Estey Museum in Brattleboro, Vermont. There she met with the museum curators and even volunteered to go through company archives. The records she and others at the museum uncovered were valuable to us in our restoration efforts; they also shed light on Jamison’s particular interest in this job. After the church had raised the funds, they engaged us to restore the organ, a chance for us to connect with our heritage and breathe new life into an organ we installed nearly one hundred years ago.

The entire organ was removed to our Benicia plant while the chambers were cleaned, painted, and modified for easier tuning access. In the course of the restoration, we improved some design elements that had severely limited technician access in the chamber. We also remedied mechanical and tonal issues that had arisen over decades of playing. Reinstalled, the organ is easier to maintain and therefore in better tune.

Upon returning the organ to its chambers, we were struck by the beauty and practicality of this little instrument. From the incisive, magical Salicional to the “$10,000” Cornopean, the organ is full of color that is useful to the church. Of special note is the 16′ Dulciana, a perfect example of a gentle string that speaks promptly across its whole compass. In short, this organ is designed practically and voiced beautifully. It was our pleasure to help the organ sing again, and we are confident the people of Seventh Avenue Church will treasure Opus 2886 for another hundred years
to come.

—Bryan Dunnewald

Schoenstein & Co.

Photo credit: Louis Patterson

Builder’s website: schoenstein.com

Church website: seventhavenuechurch.org

GREAT (Manual I, enclosed)

8′ First Open Diapason 61 pipes

8′ Second Open Diapason 73 pipes (1–12 fr 8′ First Open)

8′ Melodia 73 pipes

8′ Dulciana 73 pipes

4′ Octave (ext 8′ Second Open)

4′ Flute (ext 8′ Melodia)

Great to Great 16′

Great Unison Off

Great to Great 4′

Swell to Great 16′

Swell to Great 8′

Swell to Great 4′

Chimes

SWELL (Manual II, enclosed)

8′ Silver Flute 85 pipes

8′ Salicional 73 pipes

8′ Voix Celeste (TC) 61 pipes

4′ Silver Flute (ext 8′ Silver Flute)

2′ Flautino (ext 8′ Silver Flute)

8′ Cornopean 73 pipes

Swell to Swell 16′

Swell Unison Off

Swell to Swell 4′

Tremolo

PEDAL

16′ Bourdon 44 pipes

16′ Contra Dulciana (ext Gt) 12 pipes

8′ Open Diapason (fr Great Second)

8′ Flute (ext 16′)

4′ Octave (fr Great Second Open)

Great to Pedal 8′

Great to Pedal 4′

Swell to Pedal 8′

Swell to Pedal 4′

MECHANICALS

Solid state capture combination action:

128 memories

20 pistons and toe studs

2 reversibles including Full Organ

Balanced expression shoe

Balanced Crescendo shoe

Record/Playback system

 

Electro-pneumatic action

2 manuals, 9 ranks, 628 pipes

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