J. Louis von der Mehden, Jr., was born July 20, 1873, in San Francisco, California. A musician and composer, von der Mehden held several positions in San Francisco before moving east to New York City after the 1906 earthquake. He was steadily employed as a cellist or conductor with theatrical or commercial bands and worked for a year as the musical director of Herald Square Theater before becoming involved full time in the recording industry, working at different times for five different phonograph studios: U.S. Phonograph, Pathé Frère, Columbia, Lyraphone and the Victor Talking Machine Company. On some recordings he played cello in the orchestra; more regularly he would conduct performances, often arranging the music the night before the recording sessions. In 1926, von der Mehden and his wife Susan moved to Old Saybrook, Connecticut, full-time, having purchased a house in 1911.
J. Louis von der Mehden, Jr. died on August 27, 1954, in Middlesex Memorial Hospital and was buried in Cypress Cemetery at Saybrook Point.
In 1956, UConn President Albert N. Jorgensen reported to the Board of Trustees that under the provisions of the will of the late Susan Evelyn von der Mehden, who died less than one year after her husband, the University was to receive a considerable sum from the estate. There were three provisions: first, the University was to receive all of the original compositions of the late J. Louis von der Mehden; second, the University was to erect a building to be used as a concert hall in which this music could be performed; and third, the University was to provide a vault for the safekeeping of the music. The von der Mehden’s had no obvious connection to the University of Connecticut so it is unknown why Mrs. von der Mehden chose to make such a large donation to the university.
The J. Louis von der Mehden Recital Hall was completed in 1961 and has been in regular use as a recital and performance hall.
Archives & Special Collections holds Mr. von der Mehden’s papers, which consist of diaries, newspaper clippings, correspondence, notes, financial records, photographs, musical manuscripts, scores, publications, and celluloid cylinders. The finding aid to the collection can be found here: http://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A860140533