Volunteers at the Jersey City’s Loew’s Theater are assessing the damage caused by Hurricane Ida to a roughly century-old musical instrument.
On Sept. 1, rainfall from the powerful storm leaked through an attic in the Journal Square theater and into the theater’s historic organ, damaging its internal workings and rendering parts of it unplayable.
“It’s a mess,” said Robert Martin, a crew chief with the Garden State Theater Organ Society who oversaw the restoration of the Loew’s organ. “I just can’t even explain it, it’s such a mess.”
Built by the California-based Robert Morton Organ Company in the 1920s, the organ spent decades in another opulent movie house, the Paradise Theater in the Bronx.
After relocating the instrument to Jersey City, volunteers with the Garden State Theater Organ Society, led by Martin, spent 11 years and roughly $80,000 repairing and restoring the instrument.
According to the nonprofit Friends of the Loew’s, the organ has 1,774 pipes, 228 stops, and weighs about 24 tons.
“I spent years working on this organ to get it to where it is,” Martin said. “And to walk in that chamber the other day and see that devastation — I could have just died.”
Two weeks ago, the remnants of Hurricane Ida dumped nearly nine inches of rain northeast New Jersey, flooding basements and submerging cars across the county.
In the Loew’s Theater, the downpour was so heavy that it poured through a cracked pipe, broke through a plastic barrier, and leaked into the theater’s historic organ. Inside the antique instrument, the water wreaked havoc.
Historic organs, like the Loew’s, contain a complicated network of leather, glue, and wood that holds pipes and valves in place, Martin said. But water erodes those connections, loosening the glue and causing the leather to become stiff.
Martin estimates it will cost up to $50,000 to repair the instrument.
“It’s going to be a long, tedious, costly job, but we can do it,” he said.
Now, the organ has been disassembled, and Martin is drying out components with a dehumidifier in his workshop. He plans to ship them to a specialty organ workshop in Pennsylvania for repairs.
The instrument is still functional — only half of it was damaged by water — and theater volunteers expect to be able to play it at an upcoming wedding and awards ceremony. But with half the organ disabled, the music will not be able to achieve its usual tone or volume.
“It’s not as powerful or as good as if you had both (halves,)” Colin Egan, the director of the Friends of the Loew’s, said.
Aside from the organ and the attic above it, the Loew’s sustained some “localized” damage on the second floor of the lobby, Egan said.
But, with upcoming construction planned for the theater — the venue is slated for a $72 million renovation, scheduled to start by early 2022 — Egan expects the damage will be repaired.
“So in a way, if you’re going to have any damage at all, this is the time to have it,” he said.