National Register of Historic Places in San Francisco

National Register #78000759: Schoenstein Organ Company in San Francisco
7 June 2003
(Click Photo to Zoom)
National Register #78000759
Schoenstein Organ Company
3101 20th Street At Alabama
Inner Mission
Built 1928

The faded inscription painted across the façade reads: Felix E Schoenstein & Sons, Pipe Organs, Established 1877.

Because San Francisco's Mission District seems an unlikely location for a pipe organ company, a casual observer would guess that the inscription has been preserved for sentimental reasons.

The casual observer would be wrong.

Schoenstein & Co. built instruments here as recently as 2004.

Felix E Schoenstein & Sons was founded in 1877 by Felix Schoenstein. His son Louis managed it for sixty-four years until his retirement in 1962. Louis' younger brother continued to manage the family business until 1977 when he sold it to Jack Bethard, one century after its founding.

In 2004, Bethard moved the manufacturing operation to Benicia.

Schoenstein organs can be heard at many Bay Area churches, notably the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi, where in 1926, Schoenstein installed a two-manual, two-pedal gallery organ with six sets of pipes and chimes. Because this somewhat modest organ was all that the parish could afford at the time, Schoenstein designed it to facilitate expansion.

The parish had to wait fifty years, but in 1978, the gallery organ was returned to Schoenstein where it was rebuilt and reinstalled in the church with 1,032 pipes. Three more stops were added in 1993 increasing the number of pipes to 1,301.

Schoenstein Organ Company is also San Francisco Landmark 99.

The building is now home to Otherlab, described by Wikipedia as a research and development company working on computational manufacturing and design tools and applying those tools to projects such as inflatable pneumatic robots and prostheses, novel approaches to heliostat design,and applications of computational origami to the design of pressure vessels (e.g. for compressed natural gas) in arbitrary shapes.

Perhaps not so far removed from organs with one thousand pipes.

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