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Apollo Theater organ restoration begins

December 16, 1998

Apollo organBy BRYN MICKLE / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - It might be the most expensive jigsaw puzzle in Berkeley County.

After spending the past 10 years tucked in the nooks and crannies of Martinsburg's Apollo Theater, several thousand pieces that make up a 70-year-old organ are slowly being prepared for a return to show business as part of a $40,000 renovation project.

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"This is the original synthesizer," Drew Catrow said. "It's a genuine theater organ."

The wide variety of wooden and metal parts spread across the Apollo's second floor might look more like a genuine mess to the casual observer, but the chairman of the Apollo Theater's Organ Restoration Committee said the finished product will be well worth the effort.

"It's a whole different theater experience," Catrow said. "The organ brings back feelings of yesteryear."

Catrow, 43, of Martinsburg, said the organ was donated to the Apollo in 1988 by a man who rescued it from a Rochester, N.Y., garbage dump in the 1950s. Catrow said the man wanted nothing for the organ except the promise it would be rebuilt and installed in the Apollo.

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Now, 10 years later, the Apollo is trying to make good on that promise.

Estimating it would cost $100,000 to restore the organ, Catrow said the effort got a huge boost in September when Jack Staley came to see a show at the Apollo.

Catrow said Staley, a retired organ technician from Hagerstown, was so excited when saw the organ's console in the auditorium that he volunteered his services, as well as those of a few other organ workers.

The offer knocked about $60,000 off the price tag of the renovation, said Catrow.

Refurbishing the organ won't be cheap, nor will it be easy, Catrow said.

With 73 pieces required for each sound and seven types of pipes - ranging from the size of a small pencil to 16 feet in length - the workers must first take an inventory to find out what they do and don't have.

Catrow predicted it will take up to two years to finish the organ, including the lengthy process of tuning every pipe to pitch.

Once completed, however, Catrow said the organ will open up a wide spectrum of programs that have been unavailable since the Apollo's original organ gave way to talking pictures in the 1940s.

Silent films such as "The Phantom of the Opera" will get new life thanks to the organ and Catrow said other possibilities include the formation of a community chorus and recitals with touring theater organists.

Catrow hopes the nostalgic value of the organ will not only tug heart strings but also open wallets around Martinsburg.

The restoration effort needs to raise about $40,000 and Catrow said the theater is trying to find ways to get that money. Catrow said donors who give $100 will have their name added to a wall plaque in the theater and $500 donors will have an organ pipe dedicated in their name.

"I think there is enough interest to make this happen," Catrow said. "People are kind of sentimental about this project."

Donations may be made to the A.C.T. Organ Fund at the Apollo Civic Theater, P.O. Box 5190, Martinsburg, WV 25402. The phone number is 1-304-263-6766 and the Internet address is act@access.mountain.net.

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