You are in the Sanctuary of Utah’s oldest Methodist Congregation
Updated: Jul 1, 2021
Celebrating 150 years
We began meeting in May of 1870 in a livery stable two blocks from our present location and moved into our first building on Third South between State and Main in 1871. We outgrew that space and under the direction of Reverend Benjamin Young, we moved into our present location in April of 1906 at 2nd East and 2nd South. Our current building was dedicated in May of 1906 and the organ was dedicated in Dec of 1906. Our first organist was Tabernacle Organist Edward P. Kimball.
The organ has been in its original location since 1906, thus known as one of the oldest organs in the area. The original organ had a two-manual console with 33 ranks of pipes. The organ was constructed by the George Kilgen and Sons Organ Company (1873-1939) of St. Louis, Missouri. Kilgen was a major organ builder, and at the time, constructed many noted organs, including the instruments at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Carnegie Hall in New York City.
The earliest photo we have of our Sanctuary is dated “Easter 1915.” It reveals a handsome case with stenciled façade pipes (all speaking) covering an opening sixteen feet wide and twenty feet high. The pipes were stenciled and were various shades of green in color. The organ console sat near the pipes so that the organist had a view of the congregation. The stage area was open. To get to the choir loft below the stained-glass windows, members had to pass through the organ chamber – the door can be seen in the middle of the photo. We have members who recall as children “running through the pipes” to get to the choir loft.
In the 1930’s, the front façade pipes received the first of three paint overs that occurred over the years with a dull gold color. The organ console was moved down to the main floor of the Sanctuary by Organist and Music Director, Dr. Frank W. Asper who served from 1924-1939. He conducted a 30-voice choir and gave weekly organ recitals before worship. Dr. Asper was also a Mormon Tabernacle Organist serving from 1924-1965. (Dr. Asper is pictured on the right of the lectern).
This photo from the 1950’s shows members of the Chancel Choir, conducted at the time by long time Choir Director Kenly Whitelock with Martha Prisk at the organ console.
Since 1960, there have been several remodel and renovation efforts, the last major one in 1989. Gratefully, they didn’t discard the historic pipes or chests. Due to financial restraints at the time, the church augmented the working components of the organ with an electronic Rodgers organ. The façade pipes were brought back out to be seen in
the Sanctuary with new woodwork framing the pipes. The inaugural concert was given by American concert organist and principal organist of the Wanamaker Organ, Dr. Keith Chapman, about three months before his untimely death.
When Scott R. Mills, CAGO was hired as the organist in 2008, he could tell that the organ was in need of significant repair. We embarked on that possibility. The pipes were tuned and despite the cyphers, we could hear the potential warmth and beauty that the organ had to offer.
In November of 2009, we launched a fundraising campaign to raise money to restore the organ and sanctuary back as close as possible to its original roots, keeping with its integrity, period and design. The organ project included re-establishing the organ’s unique 1900’s tonal style, its organ case from the 1915 photo, a vintage console, and augmenting its character with other vintage components. After looking around the country for vintage components and pipes that had disappeared over the years from the Kilgen organ, we found what we needed in our own backyard at the Salt Lake Masonic Temple. The organ at the Masonic Temple was originally in the American Theatre, a 3,000-seat silent movie theatre and the largest in Utah at the time, which was located on Main Street in downtown SLC. The instrument was originally built by the Kimball Organ Company. The Austin Organ Company enlarged the organ in 1915 (Opus #609). In 1917, Alexander Schreiner, later a Mormon Tabernacle Organist for 53 years, was playing on this organ as a high school student purportedly making more money than his teachers. Near the end of the silent movie era, local organists had the vision to preserve the organ and move it from The American Theatre to the new Masonic Temple building that had been finished in 1927. When we heard that this organ was no longer in regular use, the Masonic Temple Association graciously caught our vision to preserve history and we purchased their organ to merge with our Kilgen organ.
By early 2014, we had raised sufficient funds to hire Bigelow & Co. Organ Builders of American Fork, Utah. Founded in 1978 by Michael Bigelow, the company specializes in mechanical action instruments that are both historically informed and innovative. The Wesleyan Heritage Organ at FUMC is known as the Bigelow Co. Organ Builders Opus 38 (2015). We are thus the 38th organ that they have built. We are so grateful to the entire staff at the Bigelow Co. Organ Builders for their tremendous and wonderful work.
In the fall of 2014, we were ready for architectural assistance from the expertise of Allen Roberts with CRSA with the remodel of our sanctuary space. With his help, we were able to get the correct design of the open stage area. In early 2015, we hired Paulsen Construction to do the work of refinishing the floors. The stage was completely redone as the subflooring was in such poor condition, however, the flooring in front of the stage is original and after meticulously cleaning and refinishing it, adds so much to the beauty of the Sanctuary.
Mr. Bigelow approached us about considering to re-stencil the pipes. He recommended and we hired Tony Devroude of Artisan Organ to do the work. The 35 front façade pipes travelled to Cannonville, Utah near Bryce Canyon to his workshop where they were stripped of three layers of paint. He was able to establish most of the original colors by carefully stripping the layers of paint. With the 1915 photo and his expertise, he was able to recreate the patterns on the pipes themselves. Mr. Devroude also did the millwork for the decorative pieces in the wood façade.
This organ is Bigelow Opus 38 (2015) with the rebuild/enlargement of 1906/1924 Kilgen and (1915) Austin with 3 manuals, 36 voices and 43 ranks. The rebuilt Austin “A-style” console was purchased from the Austin factory and had previously been part of Austin Opus 1702 (about 1930) in the Old St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church of Cincinnati, Ohio.
The Sanctuary and Wesleyan Pipe Organ were re-dedicated on January 10, 2016. Dr. Richard Elliott, Tabernacle Organist performed the Inaugural & Donors Appreciation Organ Recital on April 8, 2016.