Renovations underway at Harkness Tower

Harkness Tower, Yale’s most iconic landmark, will spend the year shrouded behind a mask of tarp and steel as it is being renovated.

The construction project is scheduled to finish in June, but the contractor supervising the project hopes to have the tower ready in time for Commencement in May. Until then, the Harkness bells will remain silent.

The renovation includes repairing and replacing stones and bricks, restoring the masonry, and replacing some windows. There will also be improvements to Branford College’s moat at the base of the 92-year-old, 216-foot tower.

University Planner Linda Cruickshank said she did not know how much the construction will cost. Payne Whitney Gymnasium is currently undergoing similar external repairs, costing $50 million to $70 million over six to 10 years.

The construction area extends on High Street from Library Walk to the front door of the Branford Master’s House, whose occupant for 14 years, Steven Smith, said that though he knew the construction was coming, he didn’t know how intrusive it would be.

“It’s annoying, but people will live with it,” Smith said of the obfuscation of Yale’s signature spire.

The Guild of Carillonneurs, the student group charged with ringing the tower’s 54 bells twice a day, will be unable to perform until May 2010 at the earliest. The 43-ton instrument was wrapped up for storage Monday.

“I am sad for the incoming freshmen,” said carillonneur Vera Wünsche ’12. “We have a beautiful carillon and Yale tradition, but the freshmen will miss out.”

A phone call to the architect supervising the restoration, Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, was not returned.

The tower, which was finished in 1921 and famously stained with acid to make it look older, was reinforced with steel in 1966. Contrary to the lore popularized by some campus tour guides, it was never the nation’s tallest masonry structure; the 555-foot Washington Monument was completed in 1884.

Harkness Tower was last renovated with Branford College in 1999.

Sheetala Balasubramanian and Lucy Cobbs, participants in the 2009 Yale Daily News Summer Journalism Program, contributed reporting.


  • Y '10

    "Until then, the Harkness bells will remain silent."


  • BR 2010

    I have always complained about the bells. And yet the thought of senior year without them makes me sad.

  • SM'11

    Hell ye @Y'10 - count me 'pleased as punch'

  • y11

    I dno what's with you people bitching about the bells- I'd rather that than the shit God Quad music any night of the week. But I digress. I've always loved looking at Harkness Tower, it cheered me up for some reason. This saddens me greatly.

  • Y11

    Yes, nap time will benefit from this. But I too would be willing to forsake that to still see Harkness every day. It's Yale's most beautiful and prominent structural selling point. Major bummer for the freesh, too.

  • BR '11


  • BR10

    There's nothing better than a rude, hungover awakening by those bells. Sure, I hate it, but more than that, I love it.

    Seeing this news story was like a cruel joke. Couldn't it have waited a year?

  • @BR10

    Don't worry…now you can be woken up by construction workers.

  • BK'00

    Harkness was renovated when I was at Yale- that was just in '99. It seems a little too soon to have to renovate it again. Was that money well spent?

  • Nia Orvis

    My name is Nia Orvis and I'm from Michigan. I found this to be simply amazing. That is all.

  • BR'10

    this did sound like a cruel joke. I can't believe I didn't hear of this last year. I could have used some time getting used to the idea that the bells won't be there my senior year. Sitting in the BR courtyard listening to weekend afternoon bells was one of my favorite activities. I hope they finish up by commencement so we can hear the bells again before we leave, but Yale's track record with renovations doesn't make me feel confident =(

  • BR 2010

    I also wish they had told us before room draw. I would not have picked a room in that part of BR had I known.

    This is all around terrible news.

  • BR11

    Why am I awake at 6am after the first night back? Oh, that's right. Construction noise from Harkness.

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