Our Architecture and Organ
Central Presbyterian Church was designed by architect Warren H. Hayes, who also designed University Hall at Hamline (1883) and Westminster Church in Minneapolis (1898). Built in 1889 for $110,000, Central is an asymmetrical structure of the Richardsonian Romanesque style (as is the James J. Hill house). The facade is of coarse twenty-four inch thick Lake Superior brownstone, dominated by a massive gable ninety feet over the double-arched main entrances. The square bell tower is topped by an octagonal spire rising 150 feet. This spire was severely damaged in a 1949 windstorm and replaced in 1952, then was blown off during a Mothers Day storm in 2004 and replaced with the current one beautifully designed by member David Fisher in April of 2005.
The bust in the niche between the entrances is of the founding pastor, Rev. John G. Riheldaffer. The etched glass looking into the sanctuary depicts “coats of arms” of the twelve apostles and the cross and “alpha and omega” representing Christ.
As you stand in the back of the sanctuary, you can see the unique design of the building. Central’s architect, Warren Hayes, was a specialist in church design, and is credited with developing the diagonal form of seating, known as the “Akron plan.” The key elements include a raised semi-circular chancel, which places the speaker in the center of the congregation and at the front of the chancel. The pews, themselves curved, are placed on a sloping floor, which provides theater type seating and allows each person to see and hear the speaker. This architectural design reinforces the theological emphasis on the interpretation of the Word – the reading and interpretation of the Bible throughout the worship service. The primacy of the Word resulted in a “lecture hall” type of sanctuary. In fact, for at least the first 40 years of services in this building, there was no choir. Hymns were led by an organ and quartet. Currently, the choir has limited space between the organ console and the pipes.
Central was designed to accommodate large numbers of listeners. According to a newspaper article of 1889, the seating capacity of the church, including the balcony, was “1200 people, allowing 20 inches for each.”
The semi-circular windows are original to the building, but the west window (facing Cedar Street) was blown in during a wind-storm. It was rebuilt to the original design, using as much glass as could be salvaged. The sanctuary is eighty feet square, with gracefully curved angles rising to a molded plaster frieze. Vaulted arches rise from the top of eight massive semi-circular columns and corbels. Clustered curved wooden ribs form an eight-pointed star connected with a center circle fifty feet in diameter and fifty feet above the ceiling of the sanctuary. The central stained glass window in the ceiling is illuminated by light shafts from the roof.
Central Presbyterian Church celebrated recent repair and enhancement of its historic 1889 pipe organ with a Hymn Festival and Organ Dedication on Sunday, October 27 (2013) which began with an organ concert at 10:00 a.m. by resident musician Jennifer Anderson.
Special guests included The Copper Street Brass Quintet and author Susan Palo Cherwien.
The organ at Central has been revitalized, thanks to a new console and extensive repairs of its more than 2700 pipes. The work, which has taken place over the last four months, involved complete replacement of the old, worn-out console (the keyboard control center), removal and cleaning of the more than 2700 tone-producing pipes inside the instrument, and the repair of any broken parts. The Schantz Company from Ohio crafted a new three-manual console with associated electrical wiring and controls that not only matches the quarter-sawn oak woodwork in the organ’s case but also functions more efficiently.
Jennifer Anderson, Director of Music and Organist at Central, is pleased with the work. “We are looking forward to continuing the celebration with other events including a performance of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms in November, an organ recital by Dr. Sean Vogt in December, and the Requiem by Maurice Duruflé in the spring. These are events that we just wouldn’t have been able to do with the state of the instrument before.”
The pipe organ has forty-seven ranks in four divisions, and a three manual console with sixty stops. Approximately one-third of the 2,700 pipes are original to the 1889 Steere & Turner organ, and all of the large pipes in the façade speak and are musically functional. The original instrument required two people to pump the bellows manually in the basement. The first major rebuilding occurred in 1932. In 1971, a used, four manual Moeller was installed.
“This instrument has been on the fringe of the local organ-enthusiast’s awareness for years,” observed Michael Barone, host of American Public Media’s PIPEDREAMS (whose office at MPR is right next door to the church), “though we’d not paid it much attention because it was reputedly in such unreliable condition. But the many surviving original Steere & Turner pipe ranks possess a dignity and warmth that often is lacking in more modern organs, and I really look forward to this organ returning to a more active role in the community.”
In addition to the fine organists of Central Presbyterian Church, many famous musicians have given concerts on this instrument, including the popular touring virtuosos Virgil Fox and E. Power Biggs, and the blind French organist Jean Langlais.