Organ Invasion!

The Balboa Theater is set to unveil its new musical wonder

BTF Organ
Ron Donoho

Balboa Park is home to the world’s largest outdoor organ. Symphony Hall has a fancy Robert Morton Organ (currently being refurbished). Everyone knows two of anything doesn’t mean squat. But three constitutes a trend. The trifecta hits San Diego on September 13, when a restored 1929 Wonder Morton Organ debuts at the downtown Balboa Theatre.

“To have three organs of this caliber so close together will definitely get the attention of organ groups,” says Kay Porter, director of development and immediate past president of The Balboa Theatre Foundation. “We’ve had a lot of inquiries, especially because of the age of this organ, and its hand-crafted restoration.”

There were only five Wonder Morton Organs built and only four exist today. The Balboa Theatre’s organ was built in Van Nuys and installed in the Loews Theater in Queens, New York. It belonged to collectors on Long Island and in Chicago before a Balboa Theatre donor bought it in 2002.

Theater organs contain a lot of “toys” says Porter. There are 23 “ranks,” of keys, with a grand total of more than 1,400 keys. The organ is connected to a series of 2,000 pipes that produce the sounds of drums, trumpet, xylophones and other orchestral instruments.

A five-year restoration process began in 2005, led by the Ramona-based father/daughter team of Wendell and Linnea Shoberg. The price tag for the restoration and installation: $1.1 million. To date, $750,000 has been raised. Hence, organ donors (with deep pockets) are welcome.

Ron Donoho is a regular contributor to, editorial director of “Pacific SD” magazine and a contributing editor to His Web site ( is dedicated to news, sports, culture, happy hours and all things downtown.

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