Written by Matthew Schneider, 2016
The Kasschau Memorial Shell is a well-known landmark in Ridgewood, playing host to a number of concerts and performances throughout the summer, many of which are free.
Constructed in 1958 at veteran’s field, the shell is a memorial to Frank and Howard Kasschau, two notable Ridgewood residents involved with music in the village.
According to "The History of a Village," Frank Kasschau was the leader of the Orpheus Club, a men’s chorus. He was eventually succeeded by his son, Howard, who took the reins in April of 1943.
"The Orpheus Club, the oldest of Ridgewood’s musical organizations still in existence, had been founded by half a dozen businessmen and former members of male choruses in 1909," the book said. "Under the leadership and training of Mr. (Frank) Kasschau, the club’s growth and progress were strikingly dramatic."
Frank Kasschau died in 1944, just a year after giving leadership of the Orpheus Club over to his son.
The Frank Kasschau Memorial Committee of the Ridgewood Choral was formed in 1946, to suggest a suitable memorial to honor the director.
While a memorial auditorium was initially planned, the group decided instead to raise money for a memorial shell. The fundraising was accomplished through a series of concerts, with the proceeds put aside for use in the shell’s construction.
"In 1947, Helen Jepson, soprano of the Metropolitan Opera Association, appeared, contributing her talent because of her friendship with Mr. Kasschau," the text said. "In succeeding years, many other well-known artists performed for the benefit of the memorial.
In 1949, the first Pop Concert was presented outdoors to 2,500 people and was received with such great enthusiasm (that) it has been repeated each June. Each year, a sizable sum of money was realized from the Pop Concerts and added to the fund. The shell was erected and turned over to the village as a gift from the Ridgewood Choral.
According to "The History of a Village," the concrete, steel and stucco structure was designed by Wallace Dunlop, a resident and architect.
With its proscenium arch 50 feet wide by 23 feet high and its deep, curved apron, it has one of the largest stages, and certainly is one of the finest facilities, in Northern New Jersey.
The shell was dedicated on June 17, 1958, with a concert by the Ridgewood Choral and Orpheus Club, according to the book.
While the shell was utilized for a number of concerts from the outset, the number and scope of the programs had steadily grown since then.
The text noted that there have been performances by a ballet company, Ridgewood’s Gilbert and Sullivan Company and bluegrass and banjo bands, as well as "a series of groups devoted to continuing the traditional music of various ethnic cultures," among others.
Programs and maintenance of the shell are administered by a committee appointed by the village’s mayor. "Celebrating a Centennial" added that Ridgewood’s Traffic & Signal Division, which are considered the village’s handymen, are responsible for much of the maintenance and repair work to village facilities. This crew readies the electrical and sound system at the Kasschau Shell.
Though Howard Kasschau has been dead since 1994 and Frank since 1944, the memory of their accomplishments lives on through each performance at the shell named in their honor.
The Kasschaus left a great tradition which continues today.