Kent Lutheran Church to Bring 54-Rank Pipe Organ to Kent

By Michelle Gehlman-Teeter

–EDITED 12/19/16 to include a quote from the First Baptist Church.–

Have you ever wished you could attend classical concerts without having to fight traffic all the way to Benaroya Hall in Seattle? This wish is being granted within in the next few years with the Kent Grand Organ Project (KGO). Kent Lutheran Church (336 2nd Ave S., Kent, WA 98032) is renovating and installing an impressive Pipe Organ from Salem, Massachusetts, built originally in 1878. It is hoped this organ will be the core of a new music center in the Kent Valley for the community at large.

Kent Lutheran Church, downtown Kent, Washington
Kent Lutheran Church, downtown Kent, Washington

The idea started when the Lutheran Church remodeled for its new “Chancel Arts” music program. The space was designed so everything could be moved around to accommodate two grand pianos, a pipe organ and space for choral, dance or theater performers, along with the 250-seat sanctuary seating. They wanted to offer the community a way to enjoy arts and music without having to go far from home.

The acoustics are amazing and the affordable event area has already featured local artists and musicians. They wanted to nurture classical music and performing arts in the Kent Valley, making it available to all.

“We are trying to fill a niche for a performance hall downtown,” said Fergus Prestbye, chairperson of the Kent Grand Organ Board of Directors. “It’s in a religious building, but it’s a secular space for music we can share with the community.”

The church, built in 1970, was intended to feature a pipe organ, but it was too expensive at the time, so they bought an electric organ instead. The electric organ died around the time of the remodel, so it seemed the perfect time to hunt down a used pipe organ to replace it.

As fate would have it, the shrinking First Baptist Church in Salem, Massachusetts, the year before, had to leave their 200-year-old church and move to a smaller building.

“While the church had shrunk some in membership, the real reason for selling the organ was that the state bought the property to enlarge the district courts. The city itself forced the hand of the church to sell, threatening to take it by eminent domain if we did not sell,” they explained.

Leaving behind their 129-year-old Hutchings, Plaisted & Co. pipe organ, it was in danger of being dismantled for good. But the Kent Lutheran Church managed to make arrangements to get it professionally dismantled, packed and shipped to Kent, to be stored while fundraising to renovate it.

It’s been about seven years since the church got the pipes. They have temporarily installed some of the smaller organ pipes, with the larger ones waiting for the permanent installation.  The final organ will have 54 ranks (sets of pipes) for a total of 3,303 pipes, as well as a full set of chimes.

Kent Lutheran Church’s Cantor, Sean Haley, described how it will look, “The organ, so as to conform to the architectural lines of the front of the room, will be in a striking asymmetrical wood case approximately 28 feet in height at its tallest point, and some 24 feet across its width.  The visible and functional pipes of the case will range from about 18 feet in height to about 4 feet and will be made from a number of materials from flamed copper, polished zinc, and polished wood.

What will surprise most is that the visible pipes only make up about 1% of the some 3,000 total pipes in the organ. Up above, in the rear balcony of the room will be a horizontal polished copper set of trumpet pipes.”

The organ was electrified and enlarged in 1924 by William Laws of Beverly, Massachusetts, so it can now produce almost any sound imaginable and has the potential of taking sounds and making them totally unique. If you’d like to see a similar organ, St. James Cathedral in Seattle has one built by Hutchings as well.

The organ will be perfect for classical to modern music. The Chancel Arts will feature programming like solo concerts, chorale and orchestra performances utilizing the organ. They have already had two organists play background music for the 1930’s, silent movie screenings of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “The Phantom of the Opera”, and three professional organists have come from Seattle for performances.

This was just on the temporary set up. Organists from all over the country are already inquiring about performing on this 138 year-old masterpiece when it’s completed. It will be the largest pipe organ on the West Coast outside of a Cathedral setting.

The fundraising is going strong. A generous family has set up the Whalen Commemorative Matching Gift challenge grant. They will match donations up to $100,000 through the end of 2016. This will include pledges of intent to give in 2017.

Kent Downtown Partnership (KDP) has agreed to be a fiscal sponsor of the Kent Grand Organ Project while they work on becoming a 501c3. This means that donations made through KDP will be tax deductible and anyone over 70½ years of age can pledge to make an IRA-designated distribution in 2017, and it will be matched!

The total needed to finish the project is $495,825, but the Board believes they will have enough in 2017 to make the down payment of 30 percent needed to start. Marceau Pipe Organs, Inc. of Seattle will then begin the installation, and if all goes well, it will be completed by 2019.

While the community waits for the organ to be completed, there will be eight musical events held at the Kent Lutheran Church next year. The church will put on its “Chancel Arts” series, one performance per season, the first of which will be in February, featuring a harpsichord and a recorder. KGO will also offer its music series titled “Organ Plus” quarterly as well.

Besides donating financially, individuals and businesses who want to support this project can help by spreading the word.

“There are many people passionate about the organ [and classical music, in general], we just need to get the word out to them!” said Prestbye. “They can then even come to the board meetings and participate in the project if they want to. We want people to understand that it’s for everybody, not just for the church. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to get involved!”

This is truly a community project. The Kent Grand Organ will draw in locals and tourists alike as a destination place for the arts, which will be great for local businesses. It will be a performance hall Kent can be proud of.


Michelle Gehlman-Teeter

Michelle Gehlman-Teeter is a writer and photographer from Kent, Washington. Michelle is a contributor to She loves to find interesting places to go and fun things to do and share them with her readers. Click links to see her writing, photography or Facebook page.

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