WSU Celebrates 50 Years of the Stewart Bell Tower
OGDEN, Utah – For the last 50 years, Stewart Bell Tower has stood proudly at the heart of Weber State’s Ogden campus. The university marked the 50th anniversary of the iconic gathering place by featuring it in the president’s annual holiday ecard shared with the campus community on Dec. 14, 2021.
The concept and location of the structure were inspired by a Christmas Eve experience Weber State's first full-time executive director of Alumni Relations and College Development, Dean W. Hurst, had as a young soldier traveling on leave to his home in Ogden during WWII.
“I made a rough sketch of what I thought a bell tower might look like and arbitrarily attached a $50,000 price tag,” Hurst said.
Well-known Ogden architect John L. Piers, a Weber College alum, designed the 100-foot-tall tower. With limited space on campus, planners chose to install a Schulmerich “electro-mechanical” carillon with 183 miniature, precision-tuned, bell-metal tone generators, which, when struck by metal hammers and amplified through Stentor speakers positioned atop the tower, produced bell tones indistinguishable from a carillon of full-sized bells, but at a fraction of the cost and weight. The instrument was played manually from a dual keyboard console located in a performance room at the base of the tower. The carillon could also be pre-programmed to play melodies automatically at certain times.
In addition to the electronic carillon, the Stewarts commissioned four, full-sized carillon bells, cast in Asten, Netherlands, by the Royal Eijsbouts bell foundry, and four stone clock faces supported by a quartet of “golden buff” brick-face pylons that matched the color of other buildings on campus. To promote the area as a peaceful gathering place for campus and community, Piers added a landscaped terrace and reflecting pool, bumping the total cost of the project to $220,000.
Construction began in spring 1971, with the final steel beams installed in July, and the clock faces placed that November.
Stewart Bell Tower was dedicated on Dec. 14, 1971, while it was still under construction. Originally, the dedication was set to take place adjacent to the bell tower, but the morning of the dedication saw a fierce snowstorm and below-zero weather. A last-minute decision moved the dedication inside to the Union Building with then WSU President, William P. Miller conducting the ceremony.
When it was dedicated, the Stewart Bell Tower became the first structure on campus to bear the donors’ name and has since led to many other philanthropic gifts that have benefited Weber State and its students.
Thirty-seven years after the dedication, water had started leaking under the structure and bricks began falling off of the pylons. In 2008, the Bell Tower and surrounding plaza received an extensive upgrade. Renovation crews stripped the pylons and installed new bricks; they built a large drainage system to remove excess groundwater. They also replaced the four gigantic clock faces and backlit the hands and tick marks with LED lighting so the time could be viewed at night.
To emulate the beauty of the hillside above, the cement plaza was replaced with approximately 15,000 square feet of natural landscaping. More than 140 trees and 5,300 plants were installed on the plaza and two cascading water features were added.
“The four large bronze bells are still up in the tower; they still play the Westminster melody and chime the hours,” said Patrick Malone, an electronic systems technician and bell tower caretaker for more than 32 years. “The carillon and keyboard are over at Shepherd Union in the Stewart Bell Tower Lounge. They can still be activated to play different melodies that are amplified through the speakers,” he added.
Today, Stewart Bell Tower remains an integral piece of Weber State University history. The bell tower serves as a hub for student connection and the setting for one of WSU’s most popular Homecoming traditions, sharing a midnight kiss under the bell tower to become a “True Wildcat.” Stewart Bell Tower has been a backdrop for holiday concerts, election speeches, dances, firework displays, purple-pancake breakfasts, fashion shows and Weber’s Juneteenth celebration.
In times of tragedy, such as the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Wildcats have gathered at Stewart Bell Tower to comfort each other and grieve as a community.
During the 2008 rededication, Hurst, told a reporter for the student newspaper, The Signpost, “The Bell Tower has served as an icon that has weathered the weather well.”
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