"The Voice of Minneapolis"
The Great Kimball Organ
What about a future for “The Voice of Minneapolis”? When the Kimball was removed from the old Auditorium, the only reasonable public space into which the instrument could be accommodated was the new Convention Center. Chambers were designed and built there, and it is in those that the organ’s components are stored today.
Unfortunately, this was a compromise destination, understood at the time because, as in the old Auditorium, use of the organ (should it have been made to function) in the new Convention Center would continue to be extremely rare, limited by the many other uses to which the Convention Center space is put...which uses usually have no need for organs or organ music, no matter how entertaining.
That situation remains today, making it difficult to justify expenditure of the millions ($$) that would be necessary to bring the Kimball back to life. An ideal example of how such an instrument might function exists in the former Wanamaker Store (now Macy’s) in downtown Philadelphia, where a pipe organ nearly three times the size of the Minneapolis Kimball is kept in tip-top shape, plays 45-minute programs twice daily, every day, and is featured in many other special events throughout the year: www.wanamakerorgan.com
If we could find a similar sort of space in Minneapolis where a general public could experience the Kimball organ’s music without necessarily ‘going to an organ concert’...by simply being in the vicinity when the organ is played, and hear it sometimes almost by chance...then we could get going on a vision and the necessary fundraising to accomplish it. The Crystal Court downtown has that potential. Are there other options?
What happened to the organ?
Following a great deal of fund raising and concert activity in the late 1980's, the Steering Committee had the funds on hand to have the organ removed from the Auditorium and safely packed before the Minneapolis Auditorium was demolished to make room for the new Convention Center. Space was provided in the Convention Center on the south wall above the loading area in the second dome from the west, and the organ is stored there.
A contract was given to an organ builder to restore the organ for approximately $185,000 which, in retrospect, was not nearly enough money. At the time it should have been closer to $1 million, but the Steering Committee was overly optimistic about completing the project. The blower (on 440v AC) was restored and installed, along with some open wind chests (no bottom boards) and pipes.
Some of the money was found to have been spent on another project. Because this money came from a public trust fund, the City categorized it as fraud and pursued restitution under the law. The organ has remained untouched and in storage within the Convention Center since then.
Historical documents and other information
Editor's Note: In some of the following documents you will see solicitations for money, made by the Kimball Organ Steering Committee with a mailing address of 315 Grant Street. That building no longer exists. As much as we would appreciate further contributions, please do not send anything to that address!
- a comparison of the originally designed stoplist (1927) with what was actually installed
- a history of the "Voice of Minneapolis" in Powerpoint, prepared for a Pipe Organ Encounter by David Engen, and presented by Michael Barone
- a reprint of an article by David Engen, "Minneapolis Works to 'Keep a Vital Organ Alive,'" that appeared in The Tracker, 1987, Volume 3; information was taken from the archives of both the Minneapolis Public Library and the Minneapolis Convention Center
- a photo copy of the original dedication program, 1928, from the Minneapolis Public Library
- a reprint of an article by Tim Stevens from Hurdy Gurdy, Nov/Dec 1987
- a manuscript copy of an article by David Engen for The American Organist, 1987
- a reprint of the program from the "Farewell for Now" concert with the Minnesota Orchestra, conductor Jahja Ling, and organist Hector Olivera on October 27, 1987; includes full stoplist
- available from the Hennepin History Museum is a comprehensive article about the organ by Paula Hirschoff, daughter of one of the original committee members, Ed Hirschoff. In the Spring 2013 issue, page 4. Includes many references and pictures not available elsewhere. $5.