Priceless organ belongs in Chico

The university has a duty to find a home here for this locally made instrument

Those who have seen and heard Chico State’s magnificent Centennial Organ know it is one of the finest instruments of its kind in America. They also know that, as an entirely handmade creation of the Chico community, it is utterly unique.

And they know that for the nearly 30 years of its existence, the organ has been without a true home (see “Organ failure,” Scene, Nov. 27).

That’s because, just as it was nearing completion in 1990, technicians discovered that its proposed location in Laxson Auditorium posed an asbestos safety risk. The only feasible site, it turned out, was a backstage wing of Chico State’s Harlen Adams Theatre.

Acoustically the site was satisfactory. Professional organists have come from all over to play this remarkable instrument. But it has never been at home among the backstage ropes and screens. No amount of careful performance lighting can hide the fact that the organ has been misplaced.

Moreover, the university has known for 25 years that the organ poses its own safety risks by blocking the line of sight between the theater’s fly rail and the stage. Still, for one reason or another, efforts to find an alternative site have been unproductive.

For some time now the National Association of Schools of Theatre has been pushing the university’s Department of Theatre and Music to mitigate the safety risks posed by the organ. Lately it has threatened to pull the department’s accreditation if it fails to come up with a mitigation plan by Feb. 1, 2020.

University administrators are adamant that there’s no place on campus to locate the organ. The only alternatives, they insist, are either to find an off-campus site or dismantle the organ and put it in storage.

The latter should be abandoned immediately. Putting such a magnificent and unique instrument in storage would be a shameful failure on the part of not only the university, but also the community at large.

Nor should Chico State consider relocating the organ to another city. It was made by Chicoans using Chico resources, including wood from the fallen Hooker Oak, the shin bones of local cows, and spent bullet casings from the Bidwell Park gun range.

There’s no other organ in the world like the Centennial Organ. It belongs in Chico.