Weatherproofing the Outdoor Organ

Protecting Spreckels Organ from the weather

When you watch a Spreckels Organ concert, you see the console on the Organ Pavilion stage and the facade of pipes up above. 

To expose these elements, there’s a big metal door that is rolled up into a coiled cylinder at the top of the proscenium arch.

There’s no lifting this heavy console! An air compressor inside the cabinet is used to force air out the bottom of the unit like an upside-down air hockey game. With the console floating like a hovercraft, Curator Dale Sorenson works to maneuver it evenly across the cracked concrete of the well-weathered Pavilion stage.

When the concert is over and the organ blower turned off, the stage is cleared of visitors and equipment. Then it’s time for Curator Dale Sorenson to move the console against the upstage wall, underneath the pipe facade. His final step is to hit the switch for the Big Door to roll down. It takes around five minutes to raise or lower the door, which is the main screening protection for the facade, pipe loft, and console.

A six-ton door usually covers the organ’s pipes. It’s raised by a a very low-geared winch motor that dates from about 1945.

Most park visitors encounter the Pavilion with the Big Door down. Openings in the proscenium arch expose the pipe loft to outdoor temperatures; San Diego’s moderate climate reduces the stress that greater temperature swings would inflict on the organ’s pipes and interior mechanism.

Organists can rehearse “behind the door” but are well-advised to use earplugs! Usually there’s a space heater in the picture as well.

You can see how the width of the console is constrained. It’s got to fit between the upstage wall and the roll-down door.

“What do you do on rainy days?”

Rainy days are fun! The crowd is small, since most San Diegans believe that rain will melt us ; )

The 50 or so patrons who do show up, umbrellas in hand, are often able to enjoy a very private concert, underneath the great arch. 

The console remains in its usual storage spot against the upstage wall, surrounded by a small group of folding chairs. 

In his role as Curator, Dale Sorenson “makes the call if rain threatens at concert time. It only happens once or twice a year. Windy or stormy days (“when it’s raining sideways”) mean a concert has to be cancelled.

But if the rain is gentle and falling straight down, a concert is held. In the photo at right, Dale has partially lowered the Big Door because the wind picked up midway through Carol Williams’ concert.

The Pavilion’s position facing north is also helpful on rainy days. In San Diego, rain and storms generally blow from the south. The north-facing proscenium and the tall building offer good shelter on all but the stormiest poor-weather days.  

In the website photo archive, it appears that January 31, 2016 was the last rainy day that a photographer captured. Thanks to Mike Cox for most of the shots on this page. See the whole set of Mike’s photos at this Link:

Bottom line: the pipes don’t get wet and neither does the console. Exposure can present tuning problems, particularly when changes are sudden. When considering the local weather conditions and forecast, Dale aims to raise or lower the door to achieve a uniform condition of temperature and humidity throughout the whole pipe loft. The building has a 14-foot attic that acts as a heat sink. Generally the building is a cool 66 degrees or so.

In case you need one, the Spreckels Gift Shop does offer rain umbrellas for sale…!

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