Revolutionary audio heritage found in Hope
An impressive depth of audio history can be found in and around the town of Hope. Klipsch is currently one of the leading loudspeaker companies in the country and there is still a manufacturing facility for them in town. The founder of this company was a Hope resident and audio pioneer named Paul Klipsch (1904-2002).
The Klipsch Heritage Museum Association Visitor Center is located at 403 W. Division in Hope in a 1921 historic home that belonged to one of the founding families of Hope. There are demo and listening rooms here with Klipsch speakers and sound systems in each room that highlight period equipment from the 1950s and 1970s. Also nearby is the Klipsch Museum of Audio History at 136 Hempstead 278 in Hope across the street from the Klipsch factory.
“The visitor center gives people a small dose of the history,” said Jim Hunter, a retired engineer who had been at Klipsch since the 1970s and currently serves as the curator of the Klipsch Museum of Audio History. “For the people who are interested in hi fidelity and its history the museum( Klipsch Museum of Audio History) is where the meat is. There is a focus on Klipsch but it also includes examples from throughout the industry and even before hi fidelity. The places that hi fidelity came from out of the labs of Bell Telephone basically. Speakers were Paul Klipsch’s fifth career. So we touch on all of his careers including the first one which was radio design at General Electric when Thomas Edison was still there.”
The Klipsch Museum of Audio History helps tell the story of Klipsch and the audio industry at large. Inside are a collection of loudspeakers that span the audio era and a meticulous range of items from Klipsch’s personal collections are there including the first loudspeaker he made.
“As far as we are aware there is no comparable audio museum in the world,” said Hunter.
The museum is free to visit and open by appointment. Guided tours from Hunter are also available by appointment. “The biggest hit ( when visiting the museum) is the original prototype speaker,” said Hunter. “It is the beginning. People appreciate that I expand on everything beyond speakers as well to put it in context. Speakers are a big chunk but that wasn’t all of Klipsch’s life.”
The history of the company is intricate and there are a wide depth of interesting stories involving Klipsch loudspeakers and Paul Klipsch himself who is remembered for his sense of humor and broad base of talents. Among his accolades is an induction into the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame, whose fellow members include Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. Though much has been unearthed about his life, there is still much left to discover. “As far as his archives go I’ve only been in 10 percent of it,” said Hunter.
The roots of the company have a connection to the historic Southwest Proving Grounds, which was a World War II military facility in Hope. Klipsch refined a speaker design he had been working on known as the Klipschorn while doing military service there. This piece of landmark audio equipment has the acoustic output of a 100-piece symphony orchestra and was the first to reproduce the sound of a live orchestra inside a home. The Klipschorn was so innovative it is still manufactured and sold worldwide today. It also stands out as the only loudspeaker built continuously since it was first sold in the 1940s.
After this innovative design, many encouraged Klipsch to start a business. He acquired his first factory building in the former telephone exchange building for the Southwest Proving Grounds and the first Klipschorns were built there in the late 1940s and early 1950s. For a few years the basement was the scene for the production of the speakers. Today, the building is home to the Klipsch Museum of Audio History and Klipsch speakers are still regarded as a pinnacle in the field.
More audio heritage can be found in town at the Klipsch Auditorium at 206 W. Ave Avenue. This theater is housed in a renovated 1926 building on the top floor of City Hall and is where Elvis Presley performed in the 50s. It was dedicated in honor of Paul Klipsch in the 1990s. A mural featuring Paul Klipsch can also be seen on the side of the Hope Chamber of Commerce building on the corner of 2nd and Main. The Klipsch Heritage Museum Association also hosts events honoring Klipsch including an annual birthday bash in March.