Harkness bells silent until May

Yale’s most iconic landmark will spend the year shrouded behind a mask of tarp and steel.

There will be no bells and there will be no vistas as Harkness Tower remains draped in scaffolding during its yearlong renovation. The project, whose cost was not disclosed, is scheduled to finish in June, but the contractor hopes to have it ready in time for this year’s May 24 Commencement.

The bells are on hold, for now. Harkness Tower will be under renovation until the spring.
Victor Hollenberg
The bells are on hold, for now. Harkness Tower will be under renovation until the spring.

The renovation, focusing on cosmetic rather than structural improvements, will include 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 Laura Cruickshank said she did not know how much the construction would cost. Payne Whitney Gymnasium is currently undergoing similar external repairs, which will cost $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 did not 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 earlier this month.

The Guild is making arrangements to practice on other carillons in Connecticut or to acquire a portable instrument.

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

These are freshmen like Sam Greenberg ’13, whose window in Lanman-Wright Hall faces Harkness Tower. Instead of providing an inspiring view, that window now lets through loud clanking in the morning hours.

“Worse than the view problem is sleeping in,” he said.

Emma Czaja ’12, who lives in the suite at the base of the tower, bought earplugs on move-in day. She had first pick in the housing lottery, and she said she might have reconsidered if she had known about the construction noise.

Sania Tildon ’12, who lives up the stairs, had last pick. She had been expecting to suffer what some call “death by bells,” but she said she finds the construction noise equally annoying, “maybe slightly more.”

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.

Comments

  • Yale Senior

    Not a fan of no Harkness tower. Not at all.