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Rare concert grand piano with deep history in Palmer awaits restoration

Published: Sep. 17, 2021 at 7:00 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - There’s an effort to restore a historic piano in Palmer, but it’s not just any piano. It’s believed to be the first grand piano ever in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

“Pianists really enjoy these pianos, as far as I know, but they’re not made anymore,” said Andrea Hackbarth, board member on the Palmer Arts Council.

With a worn exterior and cracked soundboard, the 9-foot Baldwin D concert grand piano has seen better days. A few key details are known about its history. According to the Palmer Arts Council, it was first brought up to Alaska in 1949 by a Dr. C.C. Bailey, who needed a way to entice his wife to move to the state.

“It was purchased by the physician who had actually spent a year or so in Kodiak, and he had a betrothed who lived in Texas,” said Patricia Chesbro, another board member of the Palmer Arts Council. “He wanted her to come, and he bribed her, I guess you would say, by saying he would buy her this grand piano because she was a pianist, and he would buy her this piano and would get it to Alaska for her.”

When the Baileys eventually left Alaska behind in the 1960s, they also left the piano, donating it to a local school.

“It was the school that is now the borough building. There was a stage there, and the piano was on the stage,” Chesbro said. “They used it for assemblies, I think they had lessons there, and I do think that it had gotten a little pounding from some of the students at that point in time.”

It was then sold to the Alaska State Fair and has been played by some big names over the years.

“They said Three Dog Night, Johnny Rivers and Ronnie Milsap,” Chesbro said. “Different people who were performers at the fair played that actual piano.”

The fairgrounds lent it out to a local church for some time before it ended back up in storage. It now belongs to the Palmer Arts Council.

The piano rests in a basement at NonEssentials gift shop in downtown Palmer awaiting restoration. The Palmer Arts Council is leading the effort, to the tune of $40,000.

“We have raised at least $10,000 so far,” Hackbarth said. “We are looking at some other grants from various organizations, but we would like to get money mostly from the community because we want the community to have ownership of the piano.”

The Palmer Arts Council said it needs around $20,000 to get the restoration started. Once they gather that, the piano will be transported to Alaska Piano Services in Anchorage for the restoration.

“One of the fortunate things we have in Alaska, and in Palmer specifically, is that we have history that’s sort of alive to us,” Chesbro said. “People here played that piano. People at the junior high played that piano, and people remember the family — the Bailey family — and so I think the idea that we have a touch of the history makes us want to make sure that the next generation knows the same stories that we have.”

More information about the Bailey piano and the Palmer Arts Council’s effort to restore it online.

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