First United Methodist Church of Boulder’s Roosevelt organ is a classic example of Victorian styling: elegant and grand in scope, full-voiced, and constructed of the finest materials available. In choice of stops and overall tonal design, the organ is an assimilation of American, English, and French Romantic styles as well as more traditional, classic German influences.
In 1888, the congregations of both Grace and Trinity Methodist Episcopal Churches in Denver placed orders for organs from the Roosevelt Organ Company of New York City. In the Roosevelt organ list, the Trinity organ is no. 380; the Grace instrument is no. 382.
Grace Church was located at 13th and Bannock, across the street from Governor Evans’ mansion. The organ was installed in the brand new building in late 1888 and was dedicated along with the building on January 27, 1889. An article dated
Sunday, January 13, 1889 from the Rocky Mountain News, Denver, reads: “With the exception of tuning the organ, which is not quite completed, the new building of Grace Church is ready for service. On the 27th instant, Bishop Warren will consecrate the church with all due ceremony.”
The same crew installed both the Trinity and Grace organs. One of the crew, George T. Foot, stayed in Denver to look after the two instruments. He succeeded Charles A. Anderson, a local organ builder in Denver, who went on to become a violin repairman.
The Roosevelt organ was used in worship at Grace Church for many decades, serving a large congregation that included Governor Evans himself. In 1946 an accident with the church’s steam heating system caused all of the leather in the organ, with the exception of the bellows, to come unglued! Major repairs and leather replacement were implemented.
After World War II, changing population patterns caused the Grace Methodist congregation to vacate its downtown location, and the church building was sold to the First Assembly of God. That congregation took it upon itself to redecorate — or, perhaps more accurately, undecorate — the organ facade by repainting the display pipes (which had been trimmed in gold leaf with blank banding at the top) with gold radiator paint. Also, several coats of floor varnish were applied to the hand-oiled console.
After a number of years, the Assembly of God congregation, too, moved out of the inner city, selling the building and its contents. The organ was removed from the building in September 1958 and put into storage. A Denver Post article dated July 18, 1959 announced the demolition of Grace Church for a parking lot. Evans Chapel on the Denver University campus is all that remains of the Grace Church compound.
Prior to the demolition of Grace, First Methodist Church in Boulder began a building program with plans for a new sanctuary. The original plans called for a new organ, replacing a 1907 instrument built by Robert Hope-Jones. Budget constraints soon dictated that a new instrument was out of the question, and the search for a used organ was begun. Everett J. Hilty, head of the organ department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Norman Lane, who was a college roommate of First Methodist’s organist John Buck, knew of the availability of the Roosevelt. They brought it to the attention of the church’s Board of Trustees and choir director Berton Coffin.
Lane tuned the reed stops and arranged a Saturday visit to the deserted building where the organ still stood. The committee listened to the instrument, sang a few hymns, and struck a deal: $3,000 for the organ itself, plus $9,500 for moving, storage, cleaning, and reinstallation. These tasks were all executed by Fred H. Meunier and Associates of Denver. It is astounding to realize that, 110 years later (1998), the cost of building the same organ today has been figured at $1,020,000! The job of moving, cleaning, and installing the organ was not easy. Electric hoists were needed to lift the heavy pipes and windchests. The central and largest pipe of the facade required four strong men to set it in place . A crew of up to twelve church members volunteered to clean the organ. They arrived with buckets and sponges to wipe away the coal dust, smoke, grime, and grease. During the cleaning process, the volunteers were able to observe at first hand the high quality of the workmanship and materials and became enthusiastic supporters of the organ. After completion of the installation, Hugh Turpin and Ivan P. Morrel, associates of Fred Meunier, were responsible for the tonal finishing and retuning of the instrument.
The Roosevelt Legacy
Hilborne and Frank Roosevelt’s organs were the finest that money could buy. Their lists of installations, especially in the eastern part of the country, reads like a royal lineage: St. Thomas Church, the Church of the Holy Communion, Grace Church, all in Manhattan; the Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City, Long Island (the largest organ in the world when built in 1879 – 1883); the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition; the Original Catholic Cathedral in Baltimore (designed by Benjamin Latrobe, architect of the Capital building in Washington, D.C.); numerous large synagogues all over the eastern metropolitan area; the Chicago Auditorium…. Their production of fine instruments, a total of 536 organs, is nothing short of spectacular.
Frank Roosevelt, Opus 382
This historic organ, located in the First United Methodist Church, Boulder, Colorado, has survived essentially unchanged to the present day. The instrument remains a fine example of American Victorian organ building. It was built for Grace Methodist Episcopal Church, Denver, in 1888, and reinstalled in First Methodist Church, Boulder, in 1960.
The organ has 39 ranks, 34 stops, and 2114 pipes. Detailed information on the specifications can be found here.