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2015 Orange City Tulip Festival preview

Mike Hofman displays a wooden shoe he cut from a block of basswood in the new Stadscentrum building in Orange City, Iowa, in May 2015. Dutch for "city center," the building, on the corner of Central Avenue and Second Street, was created to house the city's street organ and wooden shoe-making equipment.

ORANGE CITY, Iowa | Locals "dig" a new building that "blooms" this year, adding a colorful -- if not loud -- dimension to the 75th Orange City Tulip Festival.

The Stadscentrum building, on the corner of Central Avenue and Second Street, houses Orange City's Dutch street organ and wooden shoe-making equipment.

Stadscentrum is Dutch for city center.

The lot in this city's center once featured blooming plants from Bomgaars, which had a store next door. When Bomgaars built a new facility on the south side of town, this area opened.

Years ago, the corner lot supported the Dutch Treat restaurant upstairs and a barber shop on the lower level.

This week? It's got volunteer Stan Vandersall pumping up the street organ and filling the area with sound while fellow volunteer Mike Hofman makes wooden shoes, both for an adoring public to see and hear.

The Orange City Development Corporation received this property when Bomgaars moved. As discussion centered on where to best house the intricate antique organ, a temperature-controlled facility like this was suggested.

At the same time, the Old Factory Coffee Shop sought additional room for its enterprise just blocks north of Northwestern College. Moving the wooden shoe-making equipment from that site would free the requisite space.

And, thus, Tulip Festival organizers planted a building idea that would place both organ and shoe-maker in the center of this city.

The Stadscentrum also features two kiosks that detail the history of the Tulip Festival. This is the site where Orange City author Bill Kalsbeek will autograph his impressive "Celebrating Our Dutch Heritage: The Story of the Orange City Tulip Festival" hardcover book this week.

"We'll have it staffed during the Tulip Festival," says Hofman, the Orange City Chamber of Commerce director and one of six active wooden shoe makers in town. "This will also be a place where the Tulip Queen and her court can meet and greet people."

The site contains 1,700 square feet, nearly all of it airy display space.

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"The building makes this a place where the organ is protected," says  Vandersall, a retired minister and Orange City resident for 34 years. "The building has a humidity level of 50 percent, which is good for the instrument."

In the past, the 1909 organ would be moved inside and out, and maybe for several blocks, to be played during each Tulip Festival.

With a new home inside the Stadscentrum, the organ need only be moved 50 feet before it can play outside and fill the downtown sector with old-school Dutch music.

"Wheeling it just 50 feet will help it stay in tune," Vandersall says. "We can play it for a while and then just move it back inside."

Built 106 years ago as a French dance organ, the unit had 79 key frames before it was reduced in size to a street organ 10 to 12 years after it was built. The Dobson Organ Co., of Lake City, Iowa, restored the instrument three years ago.

Vandersall said he wouldn't be surprised if the street organ, which was saved from a Pennsylvania junkyard in the 1950s, is worth $500,000.

"The non-professionals who were involved in the restoration took seven layers of paint off this before finding gold leaf," he says while pointing to one of three figures on the front of the street organ. "We stopped when we came across the gold leaf and called a Dallas (Texas) restorationist who drove to Lake City to get the figurines."

They were restored, along with the rest of this music-making treasure.

The shoe-making equipment is just as fun to see in action. The hand tools of this unique trade have been passed down in Orange City from Wilhelm Jansen, who made up to 5,000 pairs of wooden shoes here annually from 1957 to 1983, to Art Vogel, who bought Jansen's equipment and saw to it the shoe-making tradition kept going.

The first wooden shoe maker of wide acclaim in the Sioux County seat was Jacob Van Hoff, who came to Orange City by himself at the age of 16. The immigrant from Holland made his living making shoes. The Tulip Festival's first parade float prize went to Van Hoff for his shop-on-wheels, which debuted in the parade in 1936.

Van Hoff died in 1944, leaving this Dutch town without a piece of its Dutch soul -- or sole, in this case -- until Jansen's arrival from Holland 13 years later.

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