First Presbyterian Church of San Diego
"The Centennial Organ"
Planning for the original Centennial Organ began in 1967 when it was decided to replace the old instrument with a modern new one in commemoration of the church's one hundredth birthday in 1969. After three years of research, including investigation of the work of sixteen organ builders, a contract was signed with the Casavant Freres Pipe Organ Builders of Ste. Hyacinthe, Canada. The organ was dedicated on June 3, 1973.
On October 14, 1980, an arsonist set fire to the church kitchen, directly underneath the sanctuary chancel and organ lofts. Burning up through the walls and choir loft, the organ console was consumed, some ranks of the pipes melted, and the chimes were ruined. Water damaged most of the windchests.
Determined to bring good out of this tragedy, the congregation immediately set about to reconstruct the chancel and organ as well as the damaged kitchen and dining room below. While the congregation worshiped in crowded rooms elsewhere in the church buildings, a Reconstruction Committee was formed, assisted by an Organ Reconstruction Task Force, many of whom had served on the original Organ Committee of 1969. Extra time was taken for study as to ways the reconstruction could be better than the original.
The Casavant company was retained to rebuild their instrument. Lawrence Phelps, the designer of the original organ, was brought back as consultant. A plan was developed to improve the layout of the organ, choir loft, and platform areas.
The chancel was coated with a hard plaster and the larger platform was surfaced with oak parquet, rather than the original carpet, to provide resonant acoustical surfaces for organ and choir. The original organ chambers were replaced with an open gallery fronted with an open screen to facilitate egress of sound.
The new console is completely solid state allowing it to be more compact. Electronic stop combination and key switching systems were provided by Solid State Logic, Limited. The movable console now has dark rosewood natural keys with ivory capped sharps. The ruined chimes were replaced by a Symphonic Carillon from the Mass-Rowe Company in Escondido. It was later expanded to include Flemish and Harp Bells and to play from the tower for the enjoyment of the community.
Ninety five percent of the original pipes were saved and restored. Most of the rest of the organ was replaced or rebuilt, incorporating the most current advances in organ building technology. The rebuilt instrument arrived at the church on January 5, 1983. Installation took six weeks. Customized voicing to our sanctuary began March 14 and was completed May 27 of the same year.
At the time it was dedicated, it was the largest instrument in the San Diego Community and one of the most complete on the West Coast. In 2017, it was overhauled again by Lyle Blackinton & Associates, Inc. to increase the memory levels from 2 to 128. In addition, the organ now has 24 General pistons and features a "Next/Previous" Sequencer for ease of use switching between registrations.