Does anyone remember the quaint little town of New Rochelle, NY, where Rob and Laura Petrie (of the Dick Van Dyke show) made their home? It would surprise many people to know that New Rochelle is, in fact, a real suburb of New York City and was the chosen home of Earl Corder Sams, president of J.C. Penney Stores Co. from 1914 to 1946. In 1927 Penney’s moved its headquarters to New York City and Mr. Sams elected to build a 12,000 sq. ft., 14 room Georgian colonial mansion in nearby New Rochelle. As was the custom of the day for the ultra-wealthy, plans for the home included a large “player” pipe organ situated primarily in the basement with an Echo division positioned high in the dome of the grand elliptical foyer. The console and player mechanism are conveniently located in the entrance hallway just to the left of the foyer and adjacent to the music room. The console’s interior mechanism is enclosed in the custom cabinetry that is a part of the home giving it a built-in feel. Music from the organ is conveyed to various rooms of the home through a system of tone chutes originating in the basement and ending in decorative grilles in upstairs walls; a vital collaboration between the architect and organ builder.
The pipe organ, built-in 1927 as Opus #1654 by the famed Aeolian Organ Company, was installed in 1928 following the completion of the Sams mansion. The organ contains 27 ranks (set of pipes) playable over five divisions (Swell, Great, Choir, Echo, and Pedal). The organ can be played “by hand”, as with any other pipe organ, or it can play itself through the player mechanism. It should be noted that during the rebuild process, Parsons replaced the original roll player with a computer-driven system that currently offers over 800 selections. Such residence organs were rarely played by hand as the organs were used primarily as a means of entertainment for the organ’s owners and guests.
Unfortunately, flooding immersed the mechanism of the organ under several feet of water, ruining the electro-pneumatic wind chest mechanism, the wind pressure regulators, the remote combination system, and the remote paper-roll player mechanism. The wind pressure regulators were duplicated, the windchests were replaced with a new, direct pallet style mechanism (the actions are viewable through new plexiglass service access covers) and the console was converted to electric action. A new solid-state control system allows for multiple levels of memory as well as the installation of a custom-designed computer that accurately reproduces over 800 of the original paper rolls. The Organ Computer Interface (OrCI) system was developed by the noted restoration firm of Nelson Barden & Associates in the 1990s to ensure the digital preservation of Aeolian and E.M. Skinner paper rolls. Sean O’Donnell, also a noted restorer, provided the hardware and technical expertise required for integrating this system into Opus 1654. The console is connected to the organ via fiber optic cable. The organ’s blower and motor, having been submerged, were completely restored.
After extensive repairs, the instrument has been returned to its former state of grandeur and will once again serve as entertainment for the numerous private events and public functions being planned by the new owners of the home, Jordan and Jane VanLare. Parsons has also completed the repair of the Chimes and restoration of the Harp. The organ’s percussion is an important part of the instrument, used in many of the recordings. The organ’s pipes have been completely cleaned, repaired, and returned to proper speech.