In the final post in this series, I want to share something that will shed some light on my personal fascination the Fox Theater pipe organ I expressed in my last post.
It has to do with the building where I went to church for about 3 years when I was a teenager.
Let me take you back in a couple of ways. First geographically, I want to go back to the town of Easton, Pennsylvania; a town just across the Delaware River from Phillipsburg, New Jersey, where I grew up. All my life, my family attended the Assembly of God Church there.
Now let's go back in time to 1976. It was a year of change for the church. As a means of accommodating the growth in attendance, our church leadership spearheaded by our young pastor, moved our services to a building called the Eastern Star Temple. To this day this prominent building still stands at the corner of 5th and Church Streets.
My church only rented the building so we could only use it on Sundays & Wednesdays. There were two things about this church that I found quite fascinating.
One was the clock tower. I don't think the clock was still working at the time but I was still curious about it.
One time, my youth group leader, Gene; John Plante, a good friend and fellow church member; and I found ourselves alone in the church on a Saturday afternoon. We decided that it was time for us to explore the clock tower.
There were 2 levels we had to go up to get to workings of the clock. The level with the big shutters was infested with pigeons. Due to boards missing on several of the shutters the birds (which have been referred to as "rats with wings") had free access to the clock tower and they made it their roost and nesting place.
Subsequently, pigeons found their way into other areas of the building. It was not uncommon to find a dead feathered friend sanctuary or in the stairwells. A lot of us who were in the church quite often nicknamed it the Pigeon Palace.
The very large 2nd floor sanctuary only had pews set up along the side walls. So in order to have Sunday services there, folding chairs had to be set up in front of the fancy decorated platform and pulpit. They also had to be taken down each weekend.
My dad was one of the church leaders at the time so he had a key to the building. I went with him on Saturday nights to put up the chairs for the next morning.
The other thing that fascinated me about the church was the pipe organ. One of the benefits of helping my dad was getting to sit at the organ and play with it no one else around. The echo of that sound bellowing through an empty building was amazing. I didn't really know how to play a keyboard but I knew enough to have fun.
The memories of the Eastern Star Temple's pipe organ rushed back into my mind when I saw and heard the one at the Fabulous Fox Theater in St. Louis in July.
Speaking of the Fox Theater organ. As I promised in the my August 5th post (Fabulous Fox Theater Part 2) here's little more about the guy who was the official organist at The Fox for several decades; musician and comedian, Stan Kann.
They're a couple of links with info about him. One is a tribute from a local St. Louis TV station. The other is an actual tour of the organ and it supporting hardware from Kann, himself. Stan Kann Tribute
Stan Kann On The Fox Theater Tour
I was surprised to find out there was an aspect of Stan Kann's talents that I never knew about until we went to St. Louis. Just goes to show you that you never know what you don't know. I think it's fascinating to find those things and learn about them.
In the days following my trip to Missouri and prior to my leaving for Pennsylvania, I thought a lot about that old church in Easton, the pipe organ and everything else that made the place unique. I made it a point to try and go back see the "Pigeon Palace" once again.
It is now owned by a church known as "The Rock Church." It's located only a couple of blocks from the Center Square downtown area, near the State Theater and across from the Easton Public Library. Here's a Google Maps screenshot to give you perspective.
On the same day that I walked around downtown Easton with my niece & nephew, I drove up Northampton Street and turned right onto 5th street. There it was, the Pigeon Palace.
In the 40 years since Easton Assembly of God was a tenant, the place hadn't changed. At least on the outside.
I had to get a picture posing in front of it.
But just seeing it from the outside wasn't enough for me. I became obsessively curious. I needed to see the inside. How had Rock Church changed it? Was the pipe organ still there? Did it still work?
I mentioned to Bobby & Teejai that I was really interested in getting into the church to look around. My niece said that she knew the pastor's son because she had attended the church's youth group a few years ago. She would use her contacts to get me info about the church and it's service times.
Late Sunday morning, right after going to breakfast with my family, I went back to "The Palace" to take a look around inside.
It was about noon when I got to there. I was told their service started at 10. I was hoping someone was still there and that I hadn’t missed chance to go inside.
The door into the basement was unlocked. Someone was still there. I walked in and immediately noticed a difference. The big open downstairs area that served as my church's fellowship hall, was now walled off into a lot of smaller class rooms.
Given recent event and the overall attitude in this country regarding strangers entering churches I didn’t go wandering around. I just headed for the stairs that I knew led to the main floor. I could hear that the preacher was still giving his sermon. I was hesitant to go up because I didn’t remember where the stairs would enter the sanctuary.
Just then a woman came down the stairs. She looked at me with a combination of wonder and caution. I asked, “Is the service still going on?” She said “yes it is”.
I went up and found myself in the back left hand corner of the sanctuary. Although my exact recollection was kind of fuzzy, I knew the place wasn’t anything like I remembered.
It was not the big open cathedral like room I remembered. It was remodeled and decorated to looked like a small modern church. There were pews (which were littered with a few dozen attendees), a platform, a pulpit, and an elevated baptistery centered against the back wall.
Because the pastor was still preaching, I quietly made my way to the first pew that was open. I would wait until the service was dismissed to take pictures. Here are a few I took.
As I looked around I noticed something that was quite disappointing. In the front left corner was an area with some individual instruments including a drum set and a guitar.
The reason I found this so disheartening, was because that was where the pipe organ used to be.
After the service was over, I made my way to the front to speak to the preacher. I thought his name was Chris. I told him who I was and dropped TeeJai’s name. He said his son had text him about me coming by.
As it turns out our experiences with this historic church building mirrored its timeline over the last 45 years or so.
He told me that his dad, Sam, was pastor of the Rock Church back in the last 70s/early 80s. He rented the building shortly after my church group left. They eventually bought the property and started renovating it.
I told him that the main reason I there was to see the pipe organ again. I was disappointed when I realized it was gone.
He said, the church couldn’t afford to save the pipe organ so they sold it. He didn’t know who bought it though.
We then talked about the building. This included the level with the pigeons and the clock tower. Chris told me that he and 4 other guys have cleaned out that pigeon roost 4 times over the last 30 years. Better him than me.
I thanked him for the hospitality and then I took pictures and left.
When the fact that Pastor Chris had told me he'd been doing things at the church for "30 years" came back to me, I realized that my hopes for what I was going to see upon my return there that day had been completely unrealistic.
In my mind I thought I was going to see a place that was very much like it had been 40 years earlier. But churches don't exist in a vacuum.
The building was in desperate need of repairs and remodeling back it was my church. It would only seem reasonable that for a church organization to continue services there it would have to be fixed up and changed.
Those changes and improvements would be for safety and building code reasons as well as functionality as a church facility.
But there were elements of the building that was still the same and seemed very familiar. I looked at those as glimpses into the past. A brief visit back to an exciting time for me in my younger days.
One of the things that remained the same were the stain glass windows.
This, the final picture I took that day, will always be a reminder of my return to the Pigeon Palace.
My visit to the Rock Church was my last attempt to walk down memory lane during my visit back "home" in August.
It was a microcosm of what I took away from the entire trip. Time and change does not stand still for anyone. It's not a profound or new observation but a realization that becoming more and more relevant the older I get.
Technology, pop culture, politics, the 24 hours news, movies, TV: all, at times, make me feel like I'm living in a totally different world that I don't recognize.
To get along and stay "relevant" in today's world I must adapt to and embrace changes as much as I can; while sharing the world I used to know with those who weren't around to experience it. I guess that's my responsibility to them. Storytellers are always relevant. That's all I have to say about that.
Thanks for reading this and all the other entries into my "Going Back" series. I am really humbled by the response to some of the posts. If you keep coming back I promise to do my best to stay interesting and relevant. See you next time with some more RHFactors.