Trenton War Memorial
Memorial Drive, Trenton, NJ
The instrument in the Trenton War Memorial is a 3 manual, 16 rank Möller Theatre Pipe Organ. Although residing in Trenton since 1928, it was originally housed in the Lincoln Theatre, a few blocks from its current location. The owners of the Lincoln Theatre building – The National State Bank – expressed concern for the organ’s survival when it became obvious that the theatre was doomed in 1974.
Determined to save the instrument for the citizens of Trenton, Mrs. Mary G. Roebling, Chairman of the Board, and Mr. W. Emlen Roosevelt, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National State Bank, eagerly sought a new home for the organ. Eventually attention was turned to the 1800 seat War Memorial Auditorium and its empty organ chambers. The War Memorial Building Commission, John E. Curry, then President, made funds available, and work started.
On Memorial Day weekend, 1974, fifteen volunteers from the Garden State Theatre Organ Society, under the direction of W. McKissock, Jr., began to dismantle and move the instrument. This was no small task, considering there are more than 1200 pipes, plus a xylophone, marimba, celeste harp, orchestra bells, chimes, cymbals, drums and other percussion instruments, together with a large blower, wind chests, reservoirs, and console.
For the next year and a half, volunteer Garden State Theatre Organ Society members spent forty to fifty hours per week repairing and installing the instrument. Every part had to be disassembled, cleaned, and rebuilt. Mr. McKissock designed a solid-state relay system containing 1600 transistors to replace the original bulky electro pneumatic control system, and GSTOS members built it. The building’s maintenance crew installed the wind lines and swell shades. The console also required a complete overhaul. On completion the War Memorial and people of Trenton, and Mercer County would have an instrument that could last at least another 100 years.
In February 1976 a magnificent dedicatory concert was held with Ashley Miller at the console and all 1800 seats filled, completing the dream of installing the organ. Over the following eighteen years, the organ was presented an average of five times annually (see concerts/events list) in solo concerts and also used with numerous orchestras, choruses and events.
Special credit is given to Charlie Balogh, Bill Hartig, and to our first crew chief Bill McKissock and his dedicated crew. In 1983 Bill Smith became crew chief and held that position for twenty years until 2003. The last concert of our original Trenton Series was held on March 1994 with Ralph Ringstad Jr., the featured artist.
The War Memorial, now owned by the State of New Jersey, was closed during the summer of 1994 through 1998 for major renovations, with improvements to the stage equipment, refurbishment of the auditorium and lobby, and upgrading of the acoustics.
During this almost 5 year down time, the Möller console suffered from storage in an unheated trailer, and the chambers, despite efforts to avoid it, were exposed to the dust, dirt, and damage caused by contractor work crews. As the building was readied for reopening, Crew Chief Bill Smith and his crew made a concerted effort to bring the Möller back to life. The chambers were cleaned and numerous problems fixed. The console was refinished and re-gilded, and a modern electronic relay was installed to make the console moveable. Problems, however, were encountered with wind pressure, and tuning stability.
Jelani Eddington performed the organ’s rededication concert in February of 2002. Concerts by Lew Williams and Candi Carley-Roth were also presented that year. Based on these experiences, it was decided that the organ needed continuing renovations in order to again make it reliable as a concert instrument. Work started toward this goal under the direction of Crew Chief Jason Taylor, who took over that position in 2003.
The major air reservoirs were rebuilt, the keyboards rebuilt and recovered. The number of pistons was dramatically increased. A roll cymbal was installed, and a Sostenuto Switch added to allow an artist to sustain certain notes and chords, while playing counterpoint against them.
The original blower for the organ was inefficient at dissipating heat. The right chamber temperature would climb from a normal range of low 70’s and reach the high 80’s after an hour of operation, creating havoc with the right side tuning. Early in 2005, a 15 horsepower hardly used Spencer Orgoblow blower was located and installed. This is of sufficient size to fully power both sides of the organ without overheating the air.
Four ranks of reed pipes, also from the organ’s right side, had always been unstable in tuning. They were sent out to A.R. Schopp’s Sons, Inc. to be professionally rebuilt and were reinstalled in August 2005.
The closeup of the console shows several of the most recent modifications and repairs. All the pistons including the key-cheek pistons are new. This has greatly enhanced the ease of setting up the registration for concerts. Additional pistons have been added beneath the keyboards.
The memory switch and level indicator has been moved up to the fallboard from their previous positions on the lower right. The memory is now both easier to see and to change. The number of memory levels has been increased from 16 to 48.
The keys have been completely re-bushed, refinished by Rick Grethe, and re-calibrated by Allen Miller, who also modified them to increase second touch pressures. Not shown is the new Sostenuto Switch on the main expression pedal, built and installed by Allen Miller.
The organ then began being showcased in early 2006 with Jim Kozak performing.
The event was viewed as a “shakedown concert” but the organ performed flawlessly.
Later that year Bob Ralston inaugurated a new concert series. Ron Reseigh and Ron Rhode presented concerts in 2007, Don Kinnier in 2008, and Dave Wickerham with Dick Kroeckel at the piano in 2009.
As the national recession hit, state financial support of the Trenton War Memorial declined. At the same time, Crew Chief Jason Taylor became ill and passed away in December of 2009. Since there were fewer and fewer TWM employees to deal with, and as we have not been successful in finding a new crew chief, our concerts have also become fewer and fewer.
Dennis James accompanied a silent film on October of 2009, and Bernie Anderson, Jr. followed accompanying “King of Kings” in 2010. Nathan Avakian performed in 2010. Jonathan Ortloff and Juan Cardona, Jr. In 2011 and Wayne Zimmerman, Sr. in 2013. Our last concert was with Andrew and Katie Van Varick in January of 2014.
The War Memorial is currently being operated by an off-site skeleton management.
Our last event there was an open console in March of 2016.
The War Memorial
The Great War was long over when ground was broken on July 17, 1930 for the Soldiers and Sailors War Memorial. In 1924, the Mayor of Trenton appointed a citizens’ group to begin planning a suitable memorial for the many who served their country during the great war (WWI). Three years later the War Memorial Committee recommended a design for a court of honor leading to a grand auditorium, “a memorial that would combine beauty, dignity, and civic utility.”
As the design’s scope became known, what had been a city project attracted wider support. The state donated two parcels of land and the announced its willingness to put up one-quarter of the total cost. Mercer County agreed to match that figure once the War Memorial Committee had raised $400,000 in contributions from the public. Even before a local campaign could be organized, New Jersey’s schoolchildren contributed a fund of pennies intended for a state war memorial. A plaque in the marble floor of the Memorial Court pays tribute to their $87,000 gift.
Both houses of the legislature gathered at the War Memorial on January 12, 1988 for then Governor Thomas Kean’s State of the State address and heard a preface they hadn’t expected. As he looked over the faded auditorium, the Governor proposed that New Jersey restore the venue to its original splendor. The building was closed from 1994-1998 for the extensive renovations still visible today.
Möller Organ Ranks and Percussions
Click for a full stop list (PDF) – August 14, 2005
|16′||Tibia Clausa||97 pipes|
|16′||Bourdon\Orchestral Flute||97 pipes|
|8′||Post Horn||73 pipes|
|8′||Viole d’Orchestre||85 pipes|
|8′||Viole Celeste (dbl rank)||170 pipes (separate magnets for each pipe)|
|8′||Vox Humana||73 pipes|
|4′||Harp Celeste||49 bars|
|16′||Tibia Plena||85 pipes|
|16′||Viole D’Amore||97 pipes|
|16′||Tuba Harmonic||85 pipes/td>|
|8′||Horn Diapason||85 pipes|
|8′||French Trumpet||73 pipes|
|Orchestral Bells||37 bars|
|Snare Drum Roll|
|Chinese Block reit.|
|Bird Call (2)|
|Steam Boat Whistle|
This certificate is awarded to
William Smith, Joseph Coulter, Jason Taylor, James Vitarelli
For exceptional performance as a volunteer member of the Garden State Theatre Organ Society Organ Crew supporting the restoration of the 3/16 Möller Theatre Pipe Organ located at the Trenton War Memorial, Trenton, NJ. The success of this restoration project is directly attributable to your outstanding professional skills, technical expertise, cooperative spirit, leadership, and tireless efforts. Your contributions reflect great credit upon you, the Organ Crew, GSTOS, and the State of New Jersey.
This certificate is awarded to
In recognition of your accomplishments including: ATOS Hall of Fame, Organist of the Year, ATOS Board of Directors, teacher, composer, arranger, you have made a worldwide impact on the art of music and have given a lifetime contribution to the sound of the unit orchestra. In particular, you are recognized by the membership of Garden State Theatre Organ Society for your professional artistry, the sharing of your musical talent, your donation of time and expertise, and your sincere encouragement of aspiring musicians. You are a consummate musician who has inspired professionals and amateurs alike and your styling is emulated by all levels of musicians. Most of all, we treasure you, Ashley Miller, as our Friend. This award is given on the occasion of the rededication of the Mighty Möller Theatre Pipe Organ at the War Memorial Auditorium in Trenton, New Jersey, the instrument which you dedicated at its premier in this Hall in 1976.