Thursday, April 17, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Music man has a ‘note’-worthy collection

0105 organ moller2W

Wendell Jacob demonstrates his M.P. Moller pipe organ, which he acquired from the Fox Theater in San Francisco. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

By
From page A1 | January 05, 2014 | Leave Comment

Wendell Jacob’s a bit of a storyteller.

Ask him about the old gasoline pump at his house and, perhaps a few hours later, you might be listening to the longtime Davis resident talk about the time when the Atlantic Refining Co. and Richfield Oil Corp. merged, forming the Atlantic Richfield Co., or what’s commonly known as Arco.

It’s for that love of stories that Jacob, born in Davis in 1929, began maybe the most unique collection in town: In his possession, Jacob has a dozen antique organs, pianos, keyboards and other musical contraptions.

Somewhere deep in the wood of each lies some great history, and Jacob would love to tell you about it.

“There’s a story behind every one of them,” Jacob said. “I’m kind of a storyteller and I have dinners here, and people say, ‘I had no idea, no idea that that’s what that was. Or that’s the way they (it worked).’ ”

There’s the Hammond Model 1 organ, the first of its kind; a combinette, which on bi-levels features a piano and an organ; and a two-pedaled pipe organ that he calls a “glorified accordion.” Jacob even owns a Fender Rhodes Stage Piano and a little parlor chord organ for people like him, he says, who can’t really play.

All of them are different. All of them are in working order. And all have their own interesting backstory.

“I always enjoyed music, and I’ve always enjoyed having unusual artifacts,” Jacob said.

Perhaps none of the pieces in his possession, however, is more interesting, or more impressive, than the crown jewel of the collection — an M.P. Moller pipe organ.

Of course, it, too, has an interesting story.

The pipe organ

Jacob was out to dinner with a few friends, and a few people he didn’t know, when the conversation turned to a woman who owned this old pipe organ. Apparently, she had plans to take it apart and sell it in pieces.

The folks around the table turned to Jacob, who already had a few instruments in his collection, and talked him into buying it from the woman so the old thing would be kept together. Jacob said, “OK.”

The pipe organ, he would learn, came from the lobby of the Fox Theater in San Francisco, which was torn down in 1963.

“Magnificent theater,” Jacob said. “5,000 seats, one screen. Balconies and balconies and balconies, a big vaudeville house, built in the late ’20s. It had a big Wurlitzer organ in the auditorium, among the largest that Wurlitzer ever built.

“(But) in the lobby, because the theater was so big, people used to accumulate in the lobby waiting for the picture to end and then they would (listen to) this instrument.”

Where the pipe organ came from has its own story, but where it operates now may be just as fascinating, at least locally.

It wasn’t until after Jacob purchased the instrument — and spent a hot day in the summer sun deconstructing the thing, lying on his back on the ground removing each individual pipe and wind line — that he learned that he couldn’t fit the console, or the organ part where the keyboards rest, into his house.

“We tipped it up on end, tried to walk it through, like you do,” Jacob said. “It would not go through.”

Instead, Jacob decided to build an entire addition onto his garage, with the pipe organ as the focal point of the new room. And the renovation has transformed his quiet house in Davis into a full-blown concert hall.

With songs programmed into a computer, allowing the organ to play by itself, Jacob now hosts parties where people can come and listen to the music. Occasionally, he will invite accomplished organists to come play it live. Other times, Jacob even shows silent films with the organ as the accompaniment.

Not only does the room fit the pipe organ, meanwhile, but the building, now a palace of artifact, accommodates his entire collection.

Jacob was glad it happened this way, he said, especially because it let him move all the organs out of his house.

Other favorites 

After the pipe organ, Jacob would say his second favorite in the collection is a colorful ragtime piano that he’s restored. The piano hails from Cattlemens restaurant in Petaluma and looks and sounds like it’s straight out of a saloon in the Old West.

Of course, there’s a story about how it came into Jacob’s possession as well.

“This fellow, Mark Wetch, he played it every night in the bar and I used to go over and listen to him,” Jacob said. “He was very entertaining, very good, he put on a show. He wore a little black hat — a little derby hat — had a little black mustache, sort of acted a little bit like Charlie Chaplin, and he played ragtime music.

“I was over there one time, and he says, ‘Wendell? I’m going to sell my piano, I’m changing my music, I’m not going to play ragtime anymore.’ ”

And so Jacob offered to buy it from him. After the pipe organ, he says, people who come to visit say they enjoy that piece the most.

Beyond the pipe organ and the ragtime piano, Jacob would pick the band organ as his next favorite. Perhaps the loudest of the bunch, a band organ is the musical contraption normally found at the center of a merry-go-round.

When he turns it on in the room built for the pipe organ, it booms like thunder.

As for how he picked it up? Ask Wendell.

“I knew this fellow down in El Cerrito, a good friend, and he said, ‘Wendell? My wife and I are getting a divorce. I am asset-rich and cash-poor. She wants cash. I’ve offered her the band organ but she says she won’t take it, she wants cash.’

“So he said, ‘Would you loan me enough money that I could pay her off? I’ll pledge the band organ as collateral. I will either work hard and earn enough money and pay you back, or I will find a place that I can sell the organ … get the money and pay you back. Or, if I can’t do either of the first two, you own the band organ, it’s yours.’

“So about a year went by,” Jacob says, “and all of a sudden he calls me and says, ‘I haven’t been able to sell it, I haven’t been able to earn enough money to pay you, so where do you want me to deliver the band organ?’ ”

In all fairness, Jacob looks upon all the pieces in his collection fondly.

And while he says he doesn’t play a lick, the enjoyment he gets from demonstrating how the machines work or listening to the tunes while the instruments play themselves, is enough.

In addition to the instruments, meanwhile, Jacob also owns an old Ford Model T, an old tractor and two old film projectors.

Just like his collection of musical instruments, and just like the man himself, each piece is one-of-a-kind, and they all have their stories.

— Reach Tom Sakash at tsakash@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash

Tom Sakash

Tom Sakash covers the city beat for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at tsakash@davisenterprise.net, (530) 747-8057 or @TomSakash.
LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Benefit set for local bike legend

    By Adrian Glass-Moore | From Page: A1

     
    Jury deliberates murder, elder-abuse charges

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1

     
    Davis wins USA Today Best Cycling Town honor

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1

     
    California residents divided on drought solution

    By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: A2

    For the record

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A2

     
    Three killed in attack on Ukrainian base

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

    State’s health care sign-ups beat projections

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    For the record

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

     
    Scholar will discuss human trafficking in Friday talk

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Downtown post office set to reopen

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B3

    Run or walk to prevent child abuse in Yolo County

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3 | Gallery

     
    Nominations sought for charity paint giveaway

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3

    Food Co-op board plans open house

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Davis Downtown hosts candidate forum

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A4

    Learn more about Google Glass at talk

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Per Capita Davis: Now, for some good news

    By John Mott-Smith | From Page: A4

    Birch Lane hosts 50th anniversary party

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Hannah Stein reads poetry at gallery

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Davis Food Co-op to offer free bags on Earth Day

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Get in the picture with school board candidate

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    KDVS hosts on-air fundraiser April 21-27

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Tickets on sale for Pence Garden Tour

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Fundraiser planned for Allen’s campaign

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Barbecue celebrates winter shelter program

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

    Sign of things to come

    By Fred Gladdis | From Page: A8

     
    Davis Soroptimists celebrate 60 years

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

    .

    Forum

    Fancy meeting you here …

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

     
    Expert: Free parking is a myth

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

    Have they really learned?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    A great community effort

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Public Health Heroes honored

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

    Don’t miss a Trokanski dance

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    Frank Bruni: The oldest hatred, forever young

    By New York Times News Service | From Page: A6

    .

    Sports

    Foster steps down as Lady Blue Devil basketball coach

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    River Cats’ streak reaches six wins

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Landry evolves into UCD women’s lacrosse leader

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Huge inning propels Pleasant Grove past DHS

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Giants edge Dodgers

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Youth roundup: Martinez, Chan come up big at gymnastics regional

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

    Kings drop season finale to Suns

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

     
    Angels get past A’s in extras

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    Wineaux: Good deals off the beaten path

    By Susan Leonardi | From Page: A7

     
    Rockabilly phenom to play at The Palms

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

    HellaCappella showcases a cappella singing

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

     
    ‘One’ singular sensation to open at DMTC

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

    25th annual state clay competition exhibit at The Artery

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

     
    .

    Business

    .

    Obituaries

    Tapan Munroe

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Thursday, April 17, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B6