The installation of the 1,127-pipe organ started on Monday and will continue for three weeks. Bunn-Minnick Co. of Columbus, Ohio, is in charge of the restoration. The company builds and services pipe organs throughout the country.
Over the last year, the company has been restoring and enlarging the organ. It added another Kimball organ from 1927 to add a larger variety of sounds. The addition of the second organ has more than doubled the organ's number of ranks, which are a type of sound like trumpet or flute.
The organ has a range of percussion sounds including xylophone and celesta. There are also "toys," which include bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, chimes and Chinese gong.
"It had an enormous percussion section," president Phil Minnick said of the original organ.
There are two chambers for the organ — one on either side of the theater. Minnick said it was decided to expand the organ because of the size of the theater and to give organists more options when they play.
"It just makes a richer, fuller sound," Minnick said.
The organ in the Lerner Theatre is one of the three remaining Kimball organs that are still in their original theaters. The company was a significant builder of organs until it shut down in the 1940s.
There are 12 Bunn-Minnick employees currently working at the Lerner Theatre, which means more than half of the company is on site for the project. At its completion, they will have put in 10,000 man hours — which include months spent working on the organ before they came to Elkhart.
"It's such meticulous work," Minnick told The Elkhart Truth (http://bit.ly/QB9zNL ).
Part of the restoration includes fixing the parts that had been affected by water damage that had occurred in the last 15 years. As part of that, the theater removed roof drains from the organ chambers to prevent any leaks.
The value of the organ will be more than $1 million. For people familiar with church organs, the theater's extras, like the piano and the "toys," will make it sound different than what churchgoers might be used to hearing.
"It's like a church organ with more of a sense of humor," said Bunn-Minnick employee Braden Alsnauer.
Throughout the restoration and installation, Minnick said they are trying to keep true to the Kimball tradition to maintain the integrity of the organ. Even though the process is taking three weeks, Minnick said the employees are working about 11-hour days to make sure the organ is ready by early September.
"We have to work those kinds of hours to make sure this happens," he said.
Lerner Theatre general manager David Smith said that the organ has to be played for three weeks before it is used for any public event. He hopes to have the grand opening for the organ in mid-October. He didn't think many other local theaters had pipe organs of this size.
"It's a once-in-our-lifetime event to see the organ installed in this manner in our original location," Smith said.
He hopes to use the organ during theater events on a quarterly basis, at minimum. He wants to do silent movies with the organ supplying music, just as the Lerner Theatre would have done when it first opened.
Theater employees have been documenting the installation of the theater and posting pictures to its Facebook page. They hope to have a video of the installation done and posted on its official website at a later date.
"(The theater) has always been wonderful, but now it's complete," Smith said.
Information from: The Elkhart Truth, http://www.etruth.com