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Prized Wurlitzer organ coming downtown to Engineers Club

A grand Wurlitzer organ, salvaged from a Baltimore movie theater and ensconced in a suburban home since the 1960s, will soon play to audiences at another city institution.

After Roy Wagner announced that he wanted to give away the prized possession that he's kept in his Glen Arm basement, several groups offered to take it off his hands. The Baltimore Engineering Society came up with the best option for the Wurlitzer's future, he said.

A contractor will soon dismantle the 2.5-ton instrument and put it together again at the Engineers Club in Mount Vernon, a popular venue for galas, receptions, operettas and, maybe soon, silent movies with organ notes trilling in the background.

The club, which occupies three buildings — more than 30,000 square feet — on Mount Vernon Place, has ample space, a stage and an organist among its members. The club has raised most of the $32,000 moving costs through what it describes as an "organ donor" campaign.

Engineers Club board member and former president Richard W. Magnani said he fell in love with the organ after he read an article in The Baltimore Sun about Wagner's quest to give it away.

"I knew we had to have it," he said.

Magnani said moving so many pieces and rebuilding an 84-year-old musical instrument so it pipes perfectly will be quite a challenge. The plan is to install the organ at the rear of an existing stage, which once hosted Broadway musicals.

Wagner is fine-tuning the massive instrument that has occupied his basement for 42 years.

"I am doing a lot of work to make it as good as I can make it before it is moved away," he said. "This is a matter of pride for me."

He's working with 500 pipes, a floor-to-ceiling relay panel filled with thousands of tiny pneumatic devices and a cumbersome blower with huge, noisy fans. All this has made for an arduous task for a man of 81, Wagner said.

"It is getting more difficult for me to get in there and under there," he said. "I can get down, but I have rigged a Tarzanlike rope to get me up and out."

Before it goes silent, one last hurrah will mark the 1927 Wurlitzer's bittersweet departure from the Wagner abode. "The Grande Finale," a concert featuring several renowned organists and as many as 75 guests, is set for Sunday.

Wagner will play the last song, "I'll See You in my Dreams," a ballad from the same era as the Wurlitzer and the same song Wagner played "before we cut the cable" at the old State Theater on East Monument Street.

"I have really mixed emotions, but I know I am doing the right thing and giving the organ another good home," he said.

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