A Rescued Organ Gets a New Life in Manhattan

This is about an organ transplant, but not the kind they write about in the science section.

The organ being transplanted is larger than a liver. It has more chambers than a heart. It pumps air, but at far greater pressure than most people’s lungs.

The organ in question is an organ. A pipe organ. It spent more than 60 years in a Presbyterian church in Orange, N.J., that called in the wreckers after merging with another congregation. The organ was rescued and rebuilt, and is about to begin a new life in a new church, St. Malachy’s — the Actors’ Chapel, the Roman Catholic church in the theater district.

St. Malachy’s says its worshipers have included Bob Hope and Spencer Tracy, as well as Chris Farley, Florence Henderson and Antonio Banderas. It is where Joan Crawford married Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in 1929. It was seen in the 1944 film “Going My Way,” which starred Bing Crosby.

But the neo-Gothic sanctuary has not had a pipe organ for years.

It had an instrument with a distinguished lineage that fell into disrepair as the neighborhood deteriorated in the 1970s. Paul Creston, who is best known these days as a composer, was the organist at St. Malachy’s for 33 years, from 1934 to 1967. Since the 1990s, though, the only organ at St. Malachy’s has been an electronic one, said Mark Pacoe, the church’s director of music and organist.

So why was a block and tackle hoisting organ parts into the choir loft last week? Why were organ pipes wrapped in newspapers lying in crates in the sanctuary? Why were workers squeezing into the tight spaces that will soon hold the elaborate wind chests of the pipe organ from New Jersey?

Because in mid-2007, Frank Peragallo’s father got a call, and made a call.

Mr. Peragallo’s father was John Peragallo Jr., the president of the family organ-building business in Paterson, N.J. (He died in 2008.)

The first call told him about the organ in Orange. The roof had leaked at the church. The organ console, the refrigerator-size nerve center with keys and pedals and stops, had been damaged. But the pipes were in good shape.

“My father said, ‘What do you think? We can buy it and put it in storage,’” recalled Frank Peragallo, who now runs the company along with a brother and two children.

And the second call? “He said, ‘I’ll call my friend Father Baker at St. Malachy’s,’” Frank Peragallo said, referring to the pastor, the Rev. Richard D. Baker.

In January 2008, the Peragallos submitted a proposal to install the organ at St. Malachy’s. It turned out to have been an Aeolian-Skinner, designed by a legend in the world of pipe organs, G. Donald Harrison, who oversaw the organs designed for Symphony Hall in Boston and the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, among many others. It had been installed in the New Jersey sanctuary in 1935, the same year Aeolian-Skinner installed organs at the Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey and the Groton School in Massachusetts.

It had nearly 2,400 pipes in 39 stops. It favored orchestral and classical organ stops and was less like the Baroque instruments Harrison experimented with in the 1930s. And, Mr. Peragallo said the other day at St. Malachy’s, it was solid.

“This is the way they used to build organs when there was no such thing as not enough manpower,” Mr. Peragallo said after one of five 1,000-pound wind chests had been hoisted into place.

“I tied a steel cable around a beam in the attic for our block and tackle,” he said. “We had more than 10 guys here and still needed the pulley.”

The church began raising money for the $600,000 project in 2009. For $300, someone could adopt a single “chimney flute” pipe high in the organ’s superstructure. For $100, a donor could adopt a single key on one of the console’s three manuals. Adopting a stop knob was cheaper: That cost only $50. Adopting a pedal key, which would take a pounding from the organist’s feet, was the least expensive: Only $25.

So what will it sound like in a few weeks when the console has been moved into place, the air lines have been connected and the pipes have been tuned and voiced? Will it sound as good as it did in the church in New Jersey?

“I never heard it,” Mr. Peragallo said. “When we got there, they had already chopped the cables with an ax.”

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