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Council Agrees to Sell Ornate Theater Organ

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The City Council opted Wednesday to sell the Lanterman organ to a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Co., despite a last-minute push by a group of organ enthusiasts who proposed returning the ornate instrument to the San Francisco Bay Area, where it was first played in the 1920s.

The organ, which has been in storage since Glendale bought it in 1990, could be back in service by late 1996, when Buena Vista Pictures plans to complete further restorations to the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. The council, acting as directors of the city’s Redevelopment Agency, approved a deal in which Buena Vista will pay $120,000 for the organ and install it in the 1,050-seat Art Deco theater.

“We’ve agonized for 5 1/2 years over this, trying to find a home for [the organ],” City Manager David Ramsay said. “We need to come to the realization that this is the best offer we have.”

Debate has raged over the fate of the organ ever since Buena Vista offered to buy it in May. Although company executives said they would try to do what Glendale wanted when the city bought the instrument--fully restoring it and putting it on display in Southern California--a group of organ enthusiasts accused the company of covering up its true plans, which they said would destroy the organ’s historic integrity.

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The citizens group, in turn, wanted to install the organ at the 400-seat auditorium at Glendale Community College. College officials agreed to accept the organ but said they would take none of the financial burden associated with it, including the estimated $1 million needed to restore the Lanterman and to modify the auditorium to fit it.

Council members said they, too, wanted to keep the organ in Glendale, but were dissuaded by the lack of a concrete plan to raise the needed money.

“There is so much uncertainty,” said Councilwoman Eileen Givens. “I don’t think anyone except Buena Vista can put together the package at this moment in time.”


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