Music History Pipes through His Latest Restoration Project; Westside Man Hauls Pipe Organ's Pieces Down from Chicago Suburb to Assemble

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Byline: Jessie-Lynne Kerr, The Times-Union

Bill White has his work cut out for him -- a giant musical jigsaw puzzle.

The Westside artisan, who makes a living restoring and repairing antique and classic wood boats, reverted to an interest first manifested when he was 12 -- restoring and rebuilding a nearly century-old pipe organ.

White bought a pipe organ custom-built in 1909 by the Aeolian Co. of New York for Chicago hardware and plumbing fixture magnate Richard Crane Jr.'s Millionaires Row mansion. The dual-console organ with hand-carved cabinetry and more than 1,200 pipes weighs more than 2 tons; it took White and a group of friends two trips to a Southside suburb of the Windy City to get it all.

With the hundreds of pieces split between a storage warehouse and a trailer he bought, White estimates it will take him from a year to 18 months of working in his spare time to restore and rebuild the organ.

He first must complete the restoration of one of three decades-old Jaguar automobiles he owns.

White's familiarity with pipe organs was one of the perks of growing up as a son of the late Tommy White.

His father, who died in 1989, was a Jacksonville restoration craftsman famed for his work on the Nassau County Courthouse, the 1888 Alcazar Hotel in St. Augustine, the Florida Theatre and the Greenleaf and Crosby clock outside Jacobs Jewelers at Laura and Adams streets.

"From my earliest recollection, we had mechanical musical instruments in our home for repair," White said. "Most of the instruments at the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine were in our home at one time or another for Dad to repair. Because of their value, they were brought to our house, not to the shop."

White said the family garage was filled with loads of stuff, including organ pipes and parts from the Florida Theatre.

"I can remember getting called out of class in the seventh and eighth grades to go work on organs," White said.

When he was in the ninth grade in 1969, White built a pipe organ from parts of an organ removed from Trinity Lutheran Church.

"The majority of it was in my bedroom," he said. "There was just enough room left for a bed and a dresser." The console was in the dining room, the chimes were over his bed, other parts were in the attic, and the blowers were outside the house, he recalled.

His mother, Jane White, who studied at the Juilliard School in New York and is an accomplished pianist, frequently played the organ put together by her son.

"In the course of my father's business, I worked alongside him a lot," White said. "I worked on the repair of the Aeolian organ in the Ringling Museum in Sarasota with him," White said.

White got out of the organ restoration business in 1988 and turned his interest to restoring British cars in addition to his work as a boatwright.

When eBay came along in 1997, White used it to buy and sell boat- and Jaguar-related stuff, he said.

"One night a year ago, just for the heck of it, I typed in 'pipe organ' on eBay, and I was amazed at the number of items that came up," he said.

When he checked the Web site again in February, the Crane organ was being offered for an opening bid of $5,500. …