Ours is the oldest church pipe organ in San Francisco.  It was built in 1873, the opus 394 of Johnson & Sons.  It comprises 2,060 pipes ranging from 16′ long to some smaller than pencils.  One can imagine the significant undertaking to bring an organ of this size by ship all the way from the Johnson & Sons factory in Westfield, Mass to San Francisco.  Its original purchase price of $10,000 would be the equivalent of nearly $2 million today.

The St. John’s congregation clearly loved its organ, moving it from the original building for which it was created (at Post Street near Mason) to a new, larger church at California and Octavia in 1888.  The congregation moved the organ again in 1906 to its third and current home, at Lake and Arguello.

Originally a mechanical action instrument, the pallets under the pipes would have been opened by trackers — slender wooden connectors running from the keyboard to the windchests.  Wind was supplied by a hand-pumped bellows, and records indicate it was one of the sexton’s duties to perform this task.  The organ was outfitted with an electric air blower in 1928.

By the 1940s, the organ was approaching 70 years of age and major repairs were needed.  The congregation raised $27,000 to replace the mechanical key action with electro-pneumatic pull downs on the original tracker windchests, and to install a new console.

The next major work was performed in the early 1990s: the console combination action was replaced; the windchest stop actions were rebuilt; three original sets of pipes were replaced on the Great division with a Trumpet 8, Gamba 8, and Harmonic Flute 8; the Swell Trumpet was moved to the Pedal division and replaced with a Cornopean 8; and a new console was supplied.

We are indeed fortunate that past generations have lavished such care on this instrument, because today it stands as a unique example of its kind.  Of the tens of thousands of pipe organs in the United States, there are only 34 three manual instruments remaining from 1873 or earlier.  Of these, only nine are of a similar size to St. John’s (having 40 or more ranks of pipes).  But only one of these — our own organ — was built by Johnson & Sons.

Specification of Johnson & Sons Opus 394


16 Double Open Diapason

8 Open Diapason

8 Viol de Gamba

8 Harmonic Flute

8 Chimney Flute

4 Octave

4 Flauto Traverso

2 2/3 Twelfth

2 Fifteenth

IV Mixture

8 Trumpet




16 Bourdon

8 Open Diapason

8 Stopped Diapason

8 Salicional

8 Celeste (tc)

4 Harmonic Flute

III Mixture

8 Cornopean

8 Oboe




8 Geigen Principal

8 Melodia

4 Fugara

4 Flute d’Amour

2 2/3 Nazard

2 Piccolo

8 Clarinet




32 Resultant

16 Open Wood

16 Diapason (Gt)

16 Bourdon

8 Open Diapason

8 Violoncello

8 Flute

4 Diapason

16 Trumpet

8 Trumpet (ext.)

4 Trumpet (ext.)


One thought on “Organ

  1. Pingback: No Stress, No Fuss Christmas Pageant & Worship Part II « Still Waters

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