Peter H. Smakula, the owner of Cleveland’s Goose Acres Folk Music Center, passed away on September 23. Peter was born in Jena, Germany, in 1936. Having suffered with forced piano and violin lessons as a child, Peter found his musical niche in the high school band playing French horn. His interests soon changed when he attended Harvard University and heard Pete Seeger. He immediately bought a Kay five-string banjo and taught himself to play old-time and bluegrass banjo styles. During this time, his abilities as a mechanical genius became apparent. He always tinkered with cars and motorcycles—a lifelong passion—eventually building a few motorcycles for flat track racing.
Around 1970, Peter needed his fiddle repaired, and took his instrument to a renowned local guitar maker. He was charged the then-outrageous sum of $40. The repaired crack opened up within a week. Knowing he could do a better job himself, he added the hobby of instrument repair to his already busy schedule.
He lost his corporate job with General Electric during an economic downturn in the mid 1970’s. To help make ends meet, he started teaching traditional music styles in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. The combination of a steady demand for instrumental music instruction and instrument repairs, and a son, Bob Smakula, who was already building instruments in the family basement, led to creation of Goose Acres Thumb Piano Factory & Dulcimer Works.
In 1977, the business outgrew the basement. After a little research, Pete decided that the University Circle area of Cleveland would be a great location for a store specializing in folk music. Goose Acres Folk Music Center was a hit almost immediately. Lessons and instrument building filled the long business day. Keeping the shop open twelve hours a day left little time for other activities. In addition to the lessons, sales, and repair work, Goose Acres hosted open picking sessions at which old-time, bluegrass, and folk musicians from all over Northeast Ohio would convene for four hours of music. In 1983 Peter bought a bigger building in the Little Italy section of Cleveland, and expanded Goose Acres.
Though Peter never made more than a living with Goose Acres, he was responsible for encouraging a strong old-time music scene in Northeast Ohio. Between his 40 music students a week and building banjos, dulcimers, and autoharps, he had little time for much else. Still, he tinkered on various vintage sports cars and motorcycles. He was also granted a United States patent, number 4508003, for a dual acting truss rod used in musical instrument necks.
Well known old-time musicians got their start with lessons from Pete at Goose Acres, including Mark Olitsky, David Bass, Kevin Enoch, Dirk Powell, and Denice Reese.
He is survived by his fiancé Shelia Heaton, sons Peter, Bob, and Eric, daughter Heidi, daughters- and son-in-law, and grandchildren, and Shelia’s children and grandchildren. A memorial tribute web page has been set up in his honor at www.smakula.com/PHSObit.