Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Local Weather

Partly Cloudy

59°F

Portland

Partly Cloudy

Humidity: 72%

Wind: 7 mph

  • 16 Sep 2014

    Partly Cloudy 80°F 58°F

  • 17 Sep 2014

    Cloudy 82°F 61°F


HERITAGE MATTERS: The Immortal Piano

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN M. VINCENT - The Immortal Piano has room for 42 upright pianos. Martha Taylor knows that if she had more room, shed be tempted to fill the space with even more.My wife Cheryl grew up with a piano in her home. When it came time to bring it into our house, the 1908 Baus upright was in pretty rough shape.

Martha Taylor brought it back to life.

Just a stone’s throw from Portland’s Peacock Lane, Taylor runs a little shop called the Immortal Piano. Inside you’ll find aisles of vintage upright pianos and a grand piano or two.

“I prefer uprights,” she says, “they have so much more character.” Plus, she says, they’re more affordable and they’re what most people can fit into their homes.

Head toward the back, and you’ll find the workbenches where she does her magic, exposing the pianos inner workings, and then painstakingly bringing them back to playable condition.

She buys and sells the pianos — most of which were made around 100 years ago — refurbishes and rebuilds them. She works on many family pianos — like mine.

“In the last year there’s been a big onslaught in the number of people who want to restore ‘grandmother’s piano’,” she said. “People are trying to hold onto some history.”

Unfortunately, very few old pianos can be salvaged.

“Eighty percent of the pianos I see are no longer structurally sound,” Taylor says, adding that they’re simply not cost effective to fix. Before a piano enters her shop it must pass four tests:

  • It has to have been of good name (inexpensive pianos aren’t worth restoring.)
  • It has to have weathered well (the wrong environment destroys pianos).
  • It must not have been played to death.
  • And finally, “It has to have not been worked on by idiots,” she says.
  • The Immortal Piano’s roots date back to a day in Oakland, California, when a friend took Taylor to a warehouse stacked with 500 pianos. The place was on the verge of demolition and she couldn’t stand to see the instruments destroyed.

    “I fell in love with the craftsmanship, the history, the beauty,” she says, “I didn’t know a thing about pianos.”

    About 10 years later, Taylor, her

    husband, and their dog relocated the shop to its Southeast Belmont location. It’s there that you’ll find her toiling away, piano key by piano key.

    Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN M. VINCENT - Martha Taylor uses dozens of specialized tools in the restoration and reconstruction of vintage pianos. “It’s just this mundane thing. Eighty-eight times, just over and over... 88 times.” She’s lost count of the number of pianos she has rescued since those first 500.

    Taylor is a huge fan of the craftsmen who originally built the instruments, showing how they would sign their names to the sides of the last keys. Taylor leaves her own signature in each piano she rescues. There’s a special playing card left under each of the keyboards.

    Funny thing, Taylor doesn’t actually play the piano.

    “No, I don’t understand music. I look at these things as historical pieces,” she says. “I’m a very good mechanic and it’s just a machine.”

    But that doesn’t change her love of the instrument. She wishes her shop was bigger, but she knows she’d just fill it up with more pianos.


    John M. Vincent is a third-generation Oregon journalist. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . He welcomes your suggestions for this column.