First installed in the Dufwin Theater in Oakland in 1927, the Swell Organ provided background music for the movies. The Dufwin was named after Henry Duffy, a theater producer, and his wife, actress Dale Winter, combining the first syllables of their surnames. The Dufwin theater was known later as The Roxie, but the original name found on the building was restored when the building was renovated for commercial space.
St. James Lutheran Church in San Leandro bought the organ in the 1960s from the theatre where it was gathering dust. Since St. James already had a pipe organ in its sanctuary, members installed the instrument in the church hall. Its use diminished over the years, and a nearby pizza parlor offered to purchase the organ in the mid-1980s. St. James members felt this organ should go to a church, thereby advertising its sale in a Lutheran publication.
In 1988, a great leap of faith and $1 secured this historic pipe organ. Church parishioners and organ expert John West completed four years of work installing the organ, a project that included buying new pipes and parts from as far away as Germany and rebuilding the church’s ventilation system. West said a new organ of similar quality would cost more than $100,000. The console of the organ, made by the Austin Organ Company was completely rebuilt. The stop tabs and combination system as well as the wiring were all replaced.
The mechanical parts were partially assembled by Marvin Tarbok and David Jochner and completed with the help of Jim Cullen and Jim Mueller. The Great Organ wind chest, made by the Moller Organ Company, required releathering and much work to be brought into playing condition. A New stop, Mixture III was added to supply the organ with clarity of tone, so essential to the music of Bach and other baroque masters. A solid state switching system was installed.
While the organ was of more recent vintage, many of the pipes required extensive repair. The pipes of the organ have many sources — Austin Organ Company, Wick Organ Company as well as Moller. The new Mixture stop comes from the Bosch Orgelbau in Germany. The pipework was voiced and regulated to the acoustical conditions of the church.
A dedication concert was held on Sunday, December 13, 1992 at 3:00 PM with Robin J. Smith, resident organist and guest organist Wyatt Insko, who was on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Owen Miyoshi, trumpeter and a student at the conservatory was a guest soloist.
In 2016, the organ chambers were opened to reveal the character and rugged nature of the wood and metal ranks. Transparent screens and accent lights allow participants to not only hear but see the essence of this unique marvel.
Wind is a vital part of worship, integral to both singing and operation of the musical organ. As we encounter the Holy Spirit in our midst, what better way than with her inspiring wind through rustic and natural elements.