Atop the tower

March 30, 2009 

Publicly funded art -- displayed, naturally enough, in public -- long has been an argument-inducing topic in Raleigh. Matters of aesthetics, politics and cost all become intertwined. Calming influences are sex, religion and sentiments left over from the Civil War.

But here's an item from the public art agenda that should provoke no dispute: Nearly a century after construction began, one of the Capital City's most prominent pieces of ceremonial architecture finally needs to be completed.

An article by The N&O's Jay Price recently reminded us that N.C. State University's iconic Bell Tower has no bells. The tower gracing the campus entrance off Hillsborough Street was allowed to reach its full height, but the bells and related interior features were never installed.

The tower was conceived as a memorial to members of the university family who died in World War I. Alumni struggled to finance the project, and it was taken over by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration (economic stimulus and all that). But electronic chimes eventually were substituted for the bells -- a pale substitute, really. Let the university now take the lead and put the finishing touches on perhaps its grandest symbol. Its civic neighbors would applaud, and some bell craftsmen would have a job.

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