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The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ

Reinvented in Castro Theatre

Plans to save iconic organ underway

By Heidi Smith

The Castro Organ Devotees Association, CODA, is raising money to keep the infamous Mighty Wurlitzer where it belongs - in the Castro Theatre. The nonprofit’s vision is to keep the art of theatre/classical/symphonic organ music alive through the acquisition, restoration, augmentation, and promotion of the historically significant Wurlitzer pipe organ.To make this dream come true, CODA is aiming to raise is $700,000 through grants, gifts and contributions.

When David Hegarty, the resident organist at the Castro Theatre, found out the iconic Wurlitzer he has played nearly every night since 1983 was in danger of being removed, his world literally crumbled. The organ is due for a major reconstruction, and the owner, who is moving out of San Francisco, told Hegarty that he would have to sell the iconic instrument.

I was depressed for a couple of days,” Hegarty admitted. He thought, “Well, there goes my career for the last 30 years.”

But sure enough, there was a way to save his beloved organ, and also make history.

Hegarty called his close friend, Alan Harrah, a first class organ designer. Harrah previously built one of the largest digital organs in the world, which is currently trapped in a church in West Virginia. Together, Hegarty and Harrah devised a plan that would combine these two instruments to create the largest combination pipe and digital organ in the world, with seven keyboards and 800 stop controls.

CODA received a grant from a family on the East Coast, which was enough money to secure the Mighty Wurlitzer. The owner of the Wurlitzer has agreed to sell the association the pipes and the part that produces the sound, but not the console.

Harrah has decided to make a new console with absolutely no limits. Harrah is thus working to get the console done, and the new organ should be entirely finished in roughly one year. He has already put hundreds of hours working towards his life goal of creating an instrument of unprecedented versatility.

The biggest organ in America is currently located in a Macy’s in Philadelphia. Most shoppers are unaware they are listening to such an acclaimed instrument. When Harrah completes the new organ, people will be swarming to San Francisco see and hear the new sonic dimensions that will blow their minds.

The new organ will be able to handle any style and period of organ lit - pop, classical, symphonic,” Hegarty explained with excitement in his eyes. “It is a hybrid of style and technology, bringing the instrument into the 21st century in a way which has never been done before.”

The owners of the Castro Theatre are very excited and supportive, partly because they envision the theatre as moving more toward a performing arts center than just showing movies. This organ would be the centerpiece of this new concept, essentially putting the Castro District and the Castro Theatre on the map as a major organ center.

CODA is targeting three audiences with outreach proposals: Community Educational Outreach, Music Performance Educational Outreach, and K-16 Educational Outreach. These initiatives aim to educate the public through concerts, facility tours, recitals, lectures and conventions.

The association wants to offer performance opportunities for world renowned concert artists, local and touring musical groups, and school and community performing groups. CODA also plans to provide field trip opportunities for students and teachers. Scholarship opportunities will be offered for students to receive lessons on the instrument, in an effort to build future generations of organists, organ enthusiasts, and listeners within the community at large.

According to Hegarty, CODA has been getting a great response from community leaders. Supervisor Scott Wiener has opened a lot of doors by endorsing CODA in his monthly newsletters and getting PR firms interested in the movement. Wiener agrees that the Mighty Wurlitzer is an important symbol for the Castro District.

This November, CODA will begin a crowd-funding campaign through Indiegogo. The idea is to run the campaign in phases, to make the final goal more feasible. Private individuals, private foundations, as well as major corporate foundations are urged to donate to the cause. With over 6,000 names on the Castro Theatre’s mailing list, there is no shortage of supporters behind CODA’s mission to create the most eccentric organ on the planet.

To send your donations to CODA, visit: http://www.sfcoda.org/Home.html or http://www.indiegogo.com/