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See what it takes to dismantle the Crystal Cathedral's massive pipe organ

by Kevin Ferguson | Off-Ramp

The Hazel Wright pipe organ at Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove will undergo a two-year restoration. For the past week, workers have been dismantling the 16,000-pipe instrument. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

The pipe organ in the former Crystal Cathedral in Orange County — now a Catholic Church called Christ Cathedral — is undergoing a restoration: The organ, one of the largest of its kind in the world, is being dismantled, and parts of it will be shipped to Italy to be cleaned, repaired and restored.

Overhaul of the organ is part of the renovations to the cathedral, which Orange County televangelist Robert Schuller and his ministries sold in 2012 after emerging from their financial troubles. New pews are being installed, repairs are being made, and saints are being put up.

After 30 years of being played, the organ was in disrepair. To give it the overhaul it needs, all of the pipes are being removed and cleaned individually. Some of them will be shipped half way across the world. (You can see Maya Sugarman's photos of the dismantling in the slideshow above and on KPCC's AudioVision blog.)

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Known as the Hazel Wright Organ, it's actually a combination of two instruments: a smaller organ that was originally a part of Schuller's Garden Grove Community Church, next door to the cathedral, and a larger pipe organ from the Lincoln Center. When the building was completed in the early 1980s, Schuller's ministries purchased and combined the two.

Brian Sawyers is the organ's curator; he worked with Schuller's organization and is staying on with the Orange Archdiocese to maintain the organ. He said the organ is a triumph of art and engineering. "It does Baroque very well, it does Romantic music exceptionally well," he said. "It is designed to cover all the bases."

Decades of sun exposure, humidity and damage from other elements have taken its toll on the organ. Piero Ruffati — who works for Frattelli Ruffati, the organ company who helped install the organ the first time — said the organ was put through a lot in its time at the cathedral. "At Christmastime and Eastertime, they had these shows. And they produced artificial fog," said Ruffati. "They put the building in a situation that was not very good for the organ."

A little under half  the pipes are to go back to Italy with Ruffati, where they can be cleaned, repaired and even replaced. Restoration on the pipe organ should be complete in two years.

View more photos at KPCC's AudioVision

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