Well, it's been more than 48 hours after our day at the Sanfilippo Victorian
Palace and I'm still at somewhat of a loss for words on how to describe the
place. The best I can come up with is to ask you to imagine what Citizen Kane
would have done had he been a collector of automated music machines. This
isn't really fair to Jasper Sanfilippo because this retiring, modest gentleman
is as far removed from the megalomaniac portrayed by Orson Welles as you can
get. OK, let's put it this way - you have two kinds of people: those with
unlimited funds (not us) and those with great taste, sensitivity, an eye for
quality and the heart of a preservationist (us). Rarely do you find someone who
can put those two things together. That's who Jasper is.
The Sanfilippo estate is set out in the country about 40 miles from Chicago.
If you search the Internet, you'll find a few stories on the place in
magazines like Forbes or in The New York Times. There are two major buildings
involved; one is the Victorian mansion (dubbed "La Place de Musique" - an
understatement if there ever was one) and what is known as the Carousel House. The
latter is basically an airplane hangar, built to contain the largest pieces of
Jasper's collection: antique steam engines, a Victorian locomotive with a
plush passenger train, a series of exquisitely restored dance organs &
orchestrions placed on the circumference of the building, and, the Eden Palais, a
fully restored European salon carousel. The facade of the carousel is what hits
you when you walk into the unassuming building. It's as long as a basketball
court and half as high. Carved figures, stained glass, a painting by Gallet
copied from a Boucher original in the Louvre graces the top. It even has the
original ticket booth and entry doors with etched and frosted glass windows.
The equally elaborate dance organs played music from "Darktown Strutters' Ball"
to "Rock Around the Clock," and one even played an unabridged version of
"The Blue Danube Waltz," with carved figures waltzing inside the machine. Our
lunch was a buffet of picnic food: hamburgers, brats, potato salad, and fruit.
In light of this magnificence, the impressive presentations by Austrian Helmut
Kowar and Philip Carli presented fascinating information about musical
automota (a word I hadn't heard of before this conference) and how lavish
orchestrions were used by the well-heeled as grand status symbols.
From there, we walked down the road to "La Place de Musique," whose contents
are divided into a series of extraordinary rooms. There were Victrolas
seemingly everywhere, their horns gleaming and standing at attention. Orchestrions
were on nearly every wall, plus two ranks of vintage mutoscopes, machines
that played violins, mandolins, and banjos, slot machines, record players
disguised as lamps, music boxes, and in the Music Room, an 8,000 pipe, 80 rank
theater organ. Curator Robert Ridgeway demonstrated many of these instruments in
an afternoon talk and then we were given free reign to explore the house and
hear some of the countless machines tucked away in every nook and cranny of
the house. Access to the various floors was provided by either gracefully
curving staircases or an ornate elevator.
We returned to the Carousel House for the sumptuous banquet (chicken cordon
bleu, beef tips, vegetable lasagna) followed by the ARSC Awards. From there,
we returned to the Place de Musique for an evening performance on the theatre
organ by Walt Strony, with selections ranging from a marvelous rendition of
the Victory at Sea suite by Richard Rodgers to an enchanting version of
"Somewhere" from "West Side Story" to variations on "I Wish I Were an Oscar Mayer
Wiener," played in a variety of styles - from the bombast of the 1812 Overture
to a cha-cha. An after-concert tour of the guts of the organ took us up four
flights of stairs, where we were able to witness the workings of the organ
while "Maleguena" was being played.
I could go on and on about the things we saw on Saturday, but it's really
pointless. If there ever was an argument for "ya hadda be there," this was it.
I'm sure others will chime in (sorry) about their experience, but even to the
jaded ARSCian, it was "Jaw-Dropping Time in Cook County." Here's one of
several articles on the estate that includes some photos of what I described.
We were told that our day-long stay at the estate was quite unusual, as most
tours are limited only to a few hours, so the ARSCers lucky enough to go on
this excursion were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I, for one,
will never forget it.
Origin Jazz Library
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