Farewell to the Schwab Pipe Organ

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It’s always a sad day when a piece of Penn State history is lost. It was only a year ago that we said goodbye to the venerable Old Main elm. Although two years its junior, Penn State will lose another piece of campus history, this time in the form of the Schwab Pipe Organ.

“The pipe organ is no longer in working order and repairs, salvage, and/or storage in an off-site location is cost-prohibitive,” said Geoff Hallett, the Penn State assistant director of annual giving, in an email. “The Office of Annual Giving is currently investigating ways to appropriately recognize this portion of the 1936 Class Gift.”

The pipe organ has witnessed a lot over years as the Schwab Auditorium remains one of Penn State’s most historic buildings. “This building from the first stirred the soul of Dr. Atherton as nothing else had done during his administration,” Fred Lewis Pattee once remarked of the building. In fact, President George Atherton was so eager to get the building completed in time for the 1903 commencement that he had the construction site covered with a wooden shell and heaters installed so that construction could continue throughout the cold winter.

The class of 1903 did meet in Schwab Auditorium that June for commencement, thanks in part to President Atherton’s persistence. Atherton is buried in the shadows of this historical edifice on the walkway just outside of the building that helped transform his vision.

The 900-seat auditorium is the first Penn State building to be financed by a private gift. Steel magnate and University trustee Charles Schwab donated the $150,000 needed to fund the project — part of President Atherton’s resurgence plan to emphasize liberal arts curriculum at a once exclusively agricultural institution.

The Schwab Pipe Organ is the result of the Class Gift of 1936. The class also funded a telescope atop Buckhout Laboratory and a made contribution to each of the Renaissance and Library scholarship funds. It is fitting, perhaps, that Charles Schwab was very fond of the instrument and often hosted musicians in his mansion to play on his personal pipe organ.

The pipe organ has been stored under the stage for quite some time now as it is not in working order. Renovation plans have been set for Schwab this spring, and the organ will be removed of and disposed of that time, according to the Office of Annual Giving.

For 77 years the organ has witnessed decades of commencements,  countless world class musical performances, and other notable campus events.

You did well, Schwab Pipe Organ. See you on the other side.

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About Author

Kevin Horne was the editor of Onward State from 2012-2014, and currently holds the position of Managing Editor Emeritus. He graduated from Penn State with degrees journalism and political science in 2014 and is currently seeking his J.D. at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. A third generation Penn Stater from Williamsport, Pa., Kevin is a director of the Nittany Valley Society 501(c)(3) and is involved in student government.

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