Our office is located in Allegheny West, a richly historic area. Our building’s used to be the site of an organ repair shop, where worship instruments were constructed and fixed to perfection. We decided to dig a little into the story of the area and the influence of organs in Allegheny County. Here’s what we found:
Carnegie Brings Organs to Allegheny — Late 1800s
In the 1880s, Andrew Carnegie offered several communities with which he was associated the opportunity to obtain, at his cost, a library building if they would agree to support a free public library through tax revenue. Along with the construction of the building, an organ would be installed.
The Carnegies were very generous in supplying the initial funds needed to construct libraries and community buildings throughout Pittsburgh, often times including an organ. Carnegie was incredibly philanthropic, giving nearly $350 million in donations in his lifetime to establish many libraries through the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh. The Carnegie Corporation installed organs and also championed multiple higher education projects.
The Borough of Braddock, Pennsylvania, where Carnegie had located his first steel mill, was quick to accept his generosity. Carnegie’s home town of Allegheny, including what is now present day Allegheny West (this neighborhood), merged with Pittsburgh in 1906, soon followed and received a library building, and with it, an organ.
H. J. Ebert Pipe Organs — 1940s to 1980s
H.J. Ebert used to own and work out of 848 W North Ave (this building). He worked at repairing and constructing organs for decades spanning the 1940s through 1980s. His specialty was the pipe organ, and he had a great impact on many of the churches in Pittsburgh.
“The pipe organ is the real thing. It has a physical presence you don’t get with an electric organ,” said Ebert. “It becomes part of the room. It’s a live instrument, like an orchestra, since it does use the wind.”
An open diapason (pictured left), a stopped diapason (pictured center)
Pipe organs are more effective at filling the space than electric organs, especially in large, gothic churches. They are also expensive to maintain and require a skilled repairman. However, if cared for properly, they can be operated for decades at least.
Musical notes from a pipe organ are made when valves, controlled by the keys, release compressed air through the pipes. Harry J. Ebert specialized in construction and maintenance of pipe organs. Electronic organs are mass-produced in factories to generate generic sounds. In contrast, every pipe organ is a unique, custom-designed instrument made to order for a particular sanctuary or other listening space.
Decline of Organs — 1980s to 2016
There are a couple key forces that contributed to the decline of organ use in the United States, and specifically the use of pipe organs. One is the cultural change within Christian churches, and the rise of technology.
Like the Reformation before it, a smaller cultural reformation occurred among churches in the U.S. through the 20th century. The dynamic of worship transitioned from one of performance with the congregation passively observing to one of interactive celebration.
Also, in the late 20th century, an emergence of electric organs threatened the older style of pipe organs. They were cheaper and easier to install and repair. It’s no surprise that despite the purist approach, and appreciation of quality of music, Ebert’s and others would have to respond to the market demands.
Birgo Realty Enters the Space — 2016 to present
Birgo Realty (formerly "Go Realty") was the very next inhabitant of the space — renovating it, and keeping many of the organ parts that came with the property. Many of our furniture and decoration pieces have been fashioned of out of organ parts.
We view our work as ultimately a way to honor others; our business partners and investors, property owners and managers, our tenants and community members. Most importantly though, we seek to honor God through our day-to-day and long-term developments. Our business is all about location, we’re glad to meet every day in a space of worship instruments.