St. Francis de Sales Parish celebrated its first Mass on November 27, 1938, with a congregation of 40 people. In 1960, due to enormous growth, the parish constructed a 14000l square foot structure which was unique with symbols of the apostles on either side of the main altar and a high bell tower which served as a beacon of hope for Christians throughout the San Fernando valley. A huge bell was cast in England and installed in 1960, making it the largest church bell in Southern California.
In 1981, Reverend Kevin Larkin was appointed pastor and quickly saw to the needs of the parish, both spiritual and material. Restoration and repair work were needed to both building and grounds and the work was begun immediately. Just as thing were beginning to take shape including a new Parish Center, the Northridge earthquake, January 17 1994, caused severe damage. Large cracks in the roof and concrete walls of the building crippled the very structure, rendering the sanctuary unusable for most of 1994. Although the building remained upright, the high tower, with its five-ton cross twisted on its frame, and the yok of the four-ton bell broke, sending the mammoth metal mass crashing to the bell tower floor. From this condition, repair of the church and tower began and a new organ was planned.
During the January 17, 1994, Northridge earthquake in Southern California, the St. Francis de sales Church in Sherman Oaks suffered enormous damage. The three-manual 71-stop organ was torn from its structural support causing it to collapse upon itself. Organ experts agreed that is was beyond repair, and the mass of twisted pipes and broken chests was removed. A contract was awarded to Robert Tall & Associates, Inc., Glendale, California, one of the organ industry’s leading firms, to provide a new instrument for the church. Together with Steve park, organist of St. Francis de Sales, Dr. Tall assembled an impressive group of consultants including Dr. Frederick Swann, director of music and organist of the famed Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, and Mr. Larry Hawkins, an expert in the field of digital research and design.
The new organ is an impressive instrument of 111 speaking stops spread over a handsome four-manual console. It was built by the Rodgers Instrument Corporation, Hillsboro, Oregon which successfully combined new pipe work with digitally sampled pipe voices and the best of the surviving pipes and parts from the former organ. Based on Rodgers highly advanced computer networking system, Parallel digital Imaging technology, the digital technology and the wind driven pipes have created the largest new instrument of its kind ever built.
A quote from the 1969 dedication program notes for the former organ is still pertinent today:
“An instrument such as this makes it unnecessary to explain why the pipe organ is known as the ‘King of Instruments.’ Is it any wonder that man has seen fir to use this masterpiece of his creative genius to beautify the homage he returns to his creator.”
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