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Glendale, La Canada Finalize Organ Sale


Two cities agreed this week on the sale of the historic and rare Fox Lanterman theater pipe organ, complete with its complement of components, whistles and blowers capable of creating the sounds of a 90-piece orchestra.

The La Canada Flintridge City Council on Monday agreed to sell the 65-year-old organ to Glendale for $50,000. Terms of the sale were accepted Tuesday by the Glendale Redevelopment Agency, which expects to dismantle and remove the instrument from La Canada Flintridge by April 1.

Glendale plans to restore the 1926 Wurlitzer and eventually install it as the centerpiece in the Alex Theatre, which the city hopes to convert into a performing arts center.

A team of organ experts this week began the task of cataloguing the hundreds of parts that make up the organ so that they can be packed for storage until restoration begins.

La Canada Flintridge was anxious to sell the organ and have it quickly removed so that it can tear down a large recital hall in a residential neighborhood where the instrument has been housed for 27 years.

The antique organ was left to the city in the estate of the late Assemblyman Frank Lanterman, a professional organist who rescued the instrument from the defunct San Francisco Fox Theatre. Lanterman had the stark and acoustically inferior hall built onto a 1915 Craftsman-style house, which also was bequeathed to the city.

La Canada Flintridge plans to turn the house into a museum and has a $500,000 state grant for renovation. But the city must begin work soon or forfeit the money.

Glendale officials said they plan to store the organ, possibly in an unused portion of a school administrative building, until it is restored and moved to a permanent site.

Under terms of the sale agreement, Glendale has five years to decide where to put the organ. La Canada Flintridge also retained the right of first refusal to buy it back if Glendale decides to sell it in the next 50 years.

The Glendale Redevelopment Agency in December allocated $500,000 for the initial phase of acquiring and renovating the Alex and restoring the organ.

A team of professional and volunteer organ experts has been assembled by William Schutz of Glendale, a board member of the Los Angeles Theater Organ Society. Schutz said the team expects to record and videotape details of all components, wiring and the layout before disassembly begins late this month. He estimates that complete restoration will take two years.

The Fox Lanterman was one of only five Crawford Specials built by Wurlitzer. It was the last built, the largest and the best, according to city researchers. Only four remain.

When restored, it is estimated that the organ will be worth well over $1 million, Jeanne Armstrong, redevelopment director, told agency members this week.

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