|Built in 1929 by the Barton Organ Company of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. This Organ was a one of a kind instrument. Designed by Dan Barton to be capable of filling the huge stadium which could accommodate crowds up to 20,000. An article in the February 1, 1929 Diapason describes the instrument. "The console is of large size and is to played from six manuals with 828 stop keys on the console. There will be a double arrangement of combination Pistons and combination tablets. Al Melgard, who worked for Barton as an organ instructor and demonstrator and was no doubt associated with the stadium organ from the beginnings. At some time in the thirties Al became the staff organist. At one event when Al was on duty at the console, a riot broke out caused by an unpopular decision following a boxing match. Al threw on all the stops and played a rousing version of the National Anthem which helped quell the rioters and also shattered light bulbs and windows in the cavernous stadium. Expecting dismissal because of the damage, Al was instead rewarded with the promise of a lifetime position.|
|Ralph Waldo Emerson was the organist to open the Chicago Stadium and introduce the gigantic organ to the world. He and his wife were staff organist at radio station WLS and through the relationship with the Barton organ were known to Dan Barton. When Barton was designing the stadium organ he called on Emerson to assist in the design and oversee the installation. Emerson and his wife were appointed staff and assistant organists when the stadium opened.|
|Al Melgard, shown in this autographed publicity photo|
|Al Melgard (the Melancholy Dane) shown at the stadium conole is this photo from a series taken by the builder. He was the staff organist at the stadium for four decades. During his tenure he played for politicals conventions, (it is thought that Al is responsible for "Happy Days are Here Again" becoming the theme so of the Democratic Party), hockey games, circus acts and just about any venue you can imagine that was booked into the stadium.
Below is a series of photos from this set showing various parts of the Barton Organ.
|These installation photos taken by BARTON show some of the pipe chambers. The man shown in the chamber pictures is Walter Golnick, an installation man with Barton. The organ was installed in four chambers to cover the four quandrants of the stadium building. A fifth chamber located in the center held the blower, relay and combination action setter boards.|
|Everything in the Barton was bigger than found in the usual pipe organ. Above are some of the big reeds and Tibia offsets.
Below an acre of setter boards to control the combination action on the mammoth console occupy a large portion of the chamber for the blower and relay. This was the technology of the '20s.
| Al Melgard continued at the console for over four decades. After he retired several other organists followed him at the huge six manual, but it was never the same as during the Melgard years. In the eighties in became apparent that the stadium building could no longer compete with the mega-arenas built in other cities and plans for a new arena were drawn up. Initially plans included platforms for the pipe organ chambers, but as building plans progressed, stadium owner William Wirtz, with the encouragement of his staff organist decided against moving the pipe organ to the new United Center Stadium. Statements made to the press about the exorbitant cost of insurance coverage to move the pipe organ did not ring true to anyone knowledgable about pipe organs. Several bids were submitted by organ builders, but the stadium owner let it be known that he wasn't interested. He stated at the same press conference that the new stadium would have a bigger and better organ. The new organ turned out to be a 3 manual electronic organ with an large array of speakers installed in a remote room and picked up by two microphones and pumped through the house PA system. The organist no longer has his prominent position at a large organ console in full view of the stadium audience, but instead sits a console in an isolated room with a view of the arena through TV Monitors. I cannot comment on the results, but have yet to hear any favorable comments about it. When Wirtz was asked about the future of the organ, his comment was that unless someone came forward who wanted to purchase it, it could go down with the building. Fortunately Bob Ropolo, a local organist, and owner of a 3/12 Barton equipped suburban club, The 19th Hole, formed a group to purchase, remove the organ, and find a new home for it. The six manual console was on display at the 19th Hole and for the first time it was possible for anyone to sit at the "monsterous" console. When Bob Ropolo decided to close the 19th Hole and relocate to Arizona, the bulk of the stadium Barton and the 19th Hole Barton was moved to a warehouse in Phoeniz, Arizona. In October of 1996, a propane tank on a trailer parked next to the warehouse had a exploded which created a big fire in the surrounding area. The warehouse was soon engulfed, and the two Bartons, along with a 3/19 WurliTzer from the Loew's State Memphis (Opus 1271) which had been fully restored and was waiting installation in a planned pizza restaurant were totally destroyed.
The Stadium console which had not been moved into the warehouse survived and was sold to Phil Maloof who has it installed in his music room at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada.
|Looking down at Stadium basketball floor from the organ level|
Remembering the 19th Hole
|3/14 Barton at the 19th Hole, in Lyons, Illinois. This organ was stored along with the Stadium Organ and was destroyed in the warehouse fire.|
|After the Barton was removed from the Stadium the console was set up on display at the 19th Hole. For the first time it was possible to get close to inspect the mammoth console and get photographs of it. When it was in the stadium photos were taken of the console from a tall ladder set up from the stadium floor. Now it was possible to be photographed at the console as this CATOE member, Frank Eschbach is was in the picture on the right.|
|updated 19 February 2013|
|background graphic courtesy Kurt Schlieter|