In the early 1950s, all Protestant churches were experiencing a boon in the growth of their parishes. The Congregational Church was no exception. The church sanctuary was enlarged, and it was apparent that a new pipe organ would be required. The chairman of the building project persuaded his committee to add an additional space to the chancel design to accommodate a future organ expansion.
In 1954, a generous parishioner donated enough money to the organ fund so that a new pipe organ could be acquired as part of the building expansion. The organ search committee surveyed and listened to the best pipe organs in the San Francisco Bay Area. With considerable influence from the late S. Leslie Grow, then church organist, the French-Canadian organ builder Casavant Feres of Montreal, Quebec was selected. It took nearly three months in the summer of 1955 for the church organ to be installed under the direction of a Casavant artisan sent from the Montreal factory. The resulting organ is a traditional church instrument in the Anglo-American Romantic style and the architecture of the organ is comparable with the configurations of the great church organs of England and France.
There can be no mistake about the influence of Grow on the organ committee in the decision to acquire a Casavant in favor of other builders. Grow was a student of the renowned French organist Marcel Dupre His style and taste leaned towards the French and Anglo romantic literature of Cezar Franck, Charles-Marie Widor, Ralph Vaughn Williams, and of course, Dupre himself. While Grow had an unending appreciation for the great baroque and classical composers, he was, in his own words, a hopeless romantic.
Grow acted as the architect of the organ. He selected the various ranks of pipes that were installed and their divisions on the organ. There are many instruments in the San Francisco Bay Area which have more ranks of pipes, but few can duplicate the range and depth of sound from the softest flute to the stately English reeds available to the organist on this instrument.
The instrument is uncommon in many ways. It honors the traditional foundations of the symphonic organ with its large number of 8-stops, when compared to typical organs of its size. This Casavant has an unusually large group of fully developed reed stops and two sets of Celeste stops. No corners were cut at the time the stops were selected; every voice in the organ is fully developed. The Great Organ division is well developed with a full compliment of 16· 8· and reeds (reeds are usually omitted for financial reasons). The Swell Organ division is literally identical to the Swell division on the organ at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, with full development of its diapasons and reeds. The Choir Organ is unique with its strong compliment of 8-stops. The Casavant is also singular for its full ensemble of open flutes. Even at the time the instrument was built, flutes of this type (many wooden) were rare and expensive. However, this organ has a full compliment of flutes in each division. Furthermore, the installation of the organ allowed two chambers to have expression shutters, rather than just one (usually the Swell division). The console of the Casavant remains top of the line. According to Jack Bethards of Schoenstein and Company, who has been charged with the maintenance of the organ. It has every necessary playing aid for the organist, explains Bethards.
One overriding word describes the Casavant organ: craftsmanship. Artistically, musically, mechanically, and architecturally, no compromises were made in its construction. It is, says Bethards, one of the best organs in California. At over forty ranks 2nd with its large reeds and open flutes that fills the sanctuary with elegant sound in the greatest tradition of the world’s finest pipe organs.