The Kimball organ marks 30

Instrument is last working theater organ in the state

Posted: Friday, July 06, 2007

When the State Office Building was completed in the early 1970s, the eighth-floor atrium was a giant empty space. Sure, the view was nice, but by most accounts, the room felt like a cave.

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In 1977, the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council helped move a then-49-year-old Kimball Theatre Organ into the void. It's stayed there ever since, filling the space at noontime Fridays with music from its 548 pipes.

At noon today, a modest crowd of dignitaries will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Kimball's dedication in the office building. The public is welcome to attend the free ceremony.

Organ dedication

What: The 30th anniversary of the dedication of a 79-year-old Kimball Theatre Organ.

When: noon today.

Where: State Office Building, eighth-floor atrium.

Admission: Free, welcome to all.

Radio: Live broadcast on KRNN/102.7 FM, and online at www.ktoo.org.

The proceedings will be broadcast live on KRNN/102.7 FM and also will be available online at www.ktoo.org.

"This is about the historical significance of the fact that we have the last intact theater organ in the state of Alaska that was built for an Alaskan theater," said J. Allan MacKinnon, the organ's principal player since 1977.

"There's maybe some parts of organs in somebody's garage up in Anchorage and Fairbanks, but they're not together and they're not being played," he said. "This is a historical piece of memorabilia, and to think they were doing this stuff in the 1920s and 1930s is incredible."

Theater owner W.D. Gross had the organ built in 1928 for his Coliseum Theater on South Franklin Street. The Coliseum was a hot spot back then, and Juneau residents flocked to hear the Kimball organist play along to silent movies.

In 1939, Gross moved the organ to the then-brand-new 20th Century Theater on Front Street.

It would remain there for 38 years. But the Kimball was rarely used for much of the 1940s and its cables rotted from water damage.

Radio engineer Franklin Butte rewired the cables in the early 1950s, and the Kimball was used throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

The theater decided to sell the organ in 1970. It was bought by Miles and Letha Remley, who eventually donated it to the Alaska State Museum in 1975.

The museum struggled to find a good space for the organ, until the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council and a committee of organ fans became involved. The committee raised $30,000, the organ was restored and architect Frank Maier constructed a glass space for the instrument in the eighth-floor atrium of the State Office Building.

Gov. Jay Hammond was one of many dignitaries at the dedication ceremony in 1977. Butte, MacKinnon and well-known Juneau musician Carol Beery Davis played tunes.

"The folks that donated the organ to the state museum back in the '70s were very specific about it not leaving Juneau," MacKinnon said. "They wanted it restored and put into a public place, where people could enjoy it and so forth."

Connie Boochever was one of the leaders of the Save The Organ committee three decades ago. Her daughter, Ann, will be at today's ceremony.

Spencer Miller, Ann's son, will lead the crowd in a spirited rendition of the "Alaska Flag Song."

Judge Tom Stewart will be present. His late wife, Jane, played an active role on the Save the Organ committee.

Annette Kreitzer, commissioner of the Department of Administration, will be on hand, and Ben Brown will emcee.

MacKinnon, known for his regular noon Friday concerts on the organ, will perform. Linda (Kassner) Loos, a 1956 Juneau High School graduate, also will play a few selections on the organ. Kassner Loos was a student of Carol Beery Davis.

Scott and Ellen Carrlee, both of the Alaska State Museum, will address the historical significance of the organ.

"Scott reminds me that this is one of the only items in the Alaska State Museum collection that people can interact with in this kind of fashion," MacKinnon said. "It's interesting from the historical perspective of where it came from, where it's been and how it was restored and put into this public place for people to enjoy."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at 523-2268 or korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.



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