In 1909, the rapidly growing congregation of Grand Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church elected to build a new church and sanctuary. Completed in 1912, the Greek Revival design became known as Grand Avenue Temple. Inherent in the church’s design was a magnificent fifty-five rank pipe organ designed and built by E.M. Skinner, a master organ builder from Boston. The organ was installed by Mr. Skinner as a gift to the congregation from Henry Schoellkoph and his son, Henry Schoellkopf, Jr. of Chicago. The gift was a memorial to Christian Edward Schoellkopf, a former member of the Grand Avenue congregation (1901-1906). The original cost of the organ was $50,000. It is the only presently existing unaltered example of Skinner’s. The church sanctuary and the pipe organ have never been altered from their original designs. The organ and the Grand Avenue Temple building are both on the National Historic Registry.
The organ, Opus 190, spans the entire seventy-foot wall in the front of the sanctuary. The auditorium and the instrument come together to amplify and direct sounds produced by its 3500 pipes. The Opus 190 is an excellent example of the romantic sounds’ popular at the turn of the 20th century. This organ can shake the rafters and rattle the windows, or gently tickle your ear with the soft and sweet sounds of a piccolo, concert flute, or clarinet.
Opus 190 is truly a rare and exotic antique… and also a living testament to the tonal philosophies of an American organ-building legend. In 1948, Ernest M. Skinner, at age 83, returned to Grand Avenue Temple. He replaced the Swell division Claribel Flute with a fine two-rank Flute Celestes. Minor additions were made under Mr. Skinner’s suggestion: two ranks to the Great division, 4 mutations to the Choir division, and one mixture to the Pedal division. Mr. Skinner urged the congregation to never let anyone remove or change his instrument.
The organ’s longevity is due in great part to the service and restorative repairs performed since 1971 by Mr. Michael Quimby of Quimby Pipe Organs, Inc. of Warrensburg, Missouri. All original console parts of Opus 190 have been painstakingly restored according to the 1912 specifications and designs by Michael Quimby and his associate, Mr. Eric Johnson. The Grand Avenue Temple organ is the oldest surviving 4-manual Skinner organ which has not been mechanically or tonally modified by anyone other than Mr. Skinner himself.
While this instrument provided a valuable tool for worship services, it was also a chosen instrument for concerts and workshops, underscoring the wide range of appeal and utilization a pipe organ like the Opus 190 can have. Some of the noted performers include Marcel Dupre’, Virgil Fox, Fernando Germand, Jean Langlais, Wilhelm Middleschulte, Dr. William E. McCandless and John Ditto. Most notably, Frederick Hohman recorded a CD entitled Frederick Hohman Plays Vintage Repertoire on the Oldest Original and Intact 4-Manual Ernest M. Skinner Pipe Organ on September 12, 1995 after restorative repairs were completed by Quimby Pipe Organs, Inc. Mr. Hohman is active as a touring organ virtuoso and also a producer of classical music recordings for Pro Organo, a label which he founded in 1984. His original organ compositions and organ transcriptions are published by Wayne Leupold Editions, Inc. and the CD of the concert on the Opus 190 can still be purchased at www.proorgano.com.
Along with the 1995 CD, a concert of the regional American Guild of Organists featured the Opus 190. This is the last time Opus 190 was enjoyed in its full 1912 grandeur. Shortly after these events, water entered the entire swell chamber during a re-roofing project, shutting down this part of the organ and affecting several other stops. The repairs to the organ are an expense Grand Avenue has not been able to incur, but we remain hopeful that we will be able to conduct repairs someday soon. Prior to repairs being made for the Centennial Concert, only about 30% of this grand instrument was usable. Despite these limitations, the organ is used every Sunday to God’s Glory for the enjoyment and wonderment of the congregation.
For more information on the Opus 190 today, please visit our Vision for Restoration page.