PITTSBURG -- In its heyday, the Robert Morton organ console rose majestically to accompany silent movies at the California Theatre.

No doubt, a theater organ console, with its rows of keys that create an assortment of musical and sound effects, is an attention-grabber. That is why it was the first component to be brought back to it original condition as part of a restoration effort that started in January 2013 spearheaded by Tom LaFleur.

To that end, he has turned part of his Pacific Community Services Inc. nonprofit office at 329 Railroad Avenue into an organ restoration workshop. The restored console can be seen in the front window.

"We got it into good condition so mainly people could see the pretty console," he said.

Freddie Cruz, of Oakley, helps restore the wind chest of an old organ that is being restored and will go inside the California Theater in Pittsburg,
Freddie Cruz, of Oakley, helps restore the wind chest of an old organ that is being restored and will go inside the California Theater in Pittsburg, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)

But much work still needs to be done on other components that are not visible.

"I think we are about two-thirds of the way through. We're making great progress in rebuilding the components of the organ," he said. "The major things we have to do are finishing up the refurbishing and rebuilding of all the musical components. And once we have done that, installing them into the theater isn't that big of a deal."

The organ and its 900 pipes made its debut at the California Theatre in 1928 and stayed there for 20 years before it was sold to an Oakland church. In 2011, it was purchased by Pittsburg for $15,000 as part of the restoration of the California Theatre, with the understanding that private funds would be raised for the organ's refurbishment.


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That effort is being overseen by Sacramento resident Dave Moreno, who also plays the theater organ at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland and the Bob Hope Theatre in Stockton.

"You've got to do reverse engineering and then put it back," Moreno said. "Everything that the builder put together we end up taking it apart and starting all over again."

In a corner of the workshop, electrician Freddie Cruz meticulously worked on a windchest, a component that sits below the organ pipes and helps direct air to make sounds.

"I like it, it's fun, it's a new experience,'' Cruz said of the restoration work he is doing in conjunction with a few volunteers who help out.

It is not only the electrical skills that Cruz has but his knowledge of carpentry and working with wood and leather that make him a natural for the job, LeFleur said.

If restoration work continues at the same pace, music should be coming from the organ within a year, he said. But that pace is dependent on raising additional funds for the $100,000 project. To date, about $35,000 has been raised from individual donors ranging from small gifts to an anonymous donation of $7,000, and from Keller Fund contributions.

Tom Lafleur looks up at the new installed volume control shutters inside the California Theatre in Pittsburg that is part of the restoration of an old
Tom Lafleur looks up at the new installed volume control shutters inside the California Theatre in Pittsburg that is part of the restoration of an old organ that has been moved back to the California Theater in Pittsburg, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)

About $31,000 has been spent to date on restoring the organ and electrical and interior work inside the California Theatre that is needed so the organ can once again play. LaFleur hopes to raise another $25,000 to finish the restoration work to make the organ operational.

But before it can rise from the theater floor as it did nearly a century ago, additional funds are needed to pay for an elevator lift, LaFleur said. Not having a lift means that the organ will have to be rolled into the theater on a cart to be played.

"It's next door, so that's a good thing," he said. "The (final phase) will be to raise $30,000 to $40,000 so it can be permanently installed in the theater."

IF YOU'RE INTERESTED
For more information, call Tom LaFleur at Pacific Community Services Inc. at 925-439-1056 or visit www.californiatheatreorgan.org.
If you are interested in making a financial donation, make checks payable to PCSI with a notation for the Organ Project and mail to: Pacific Community Services Inc., 329 Railroad Ave., Pittsburg, CA 94565.