A Campanile milestone: sky-high banquet

Campanile under construction

In January 1914, the steel frame of the Campanile was finished. Work on installing the stone exterior – here shown only partially complete – began in March of 1914. (Photo courtesy of University Archives/Bancroft Library)

It may seem odd to give the Campanile’s steel skeleton, hidden within sturdy granite walls, its own birthday party. But on Jan. 31, 1914 – exactly 100 years ago today – the newly completed frame was celebrated al fresco, a dizzying 200 feet in the air, on what was to become the bell tower’s observation deck.

In its coverage of the event, which included a speech by UC President Benjamin Ide Wheeler, a Daily Californian editorial said: “…the Campanile is lifting up its head…to stand before the world as a representative of a great idea and a great institution.” The student newspaper also commissioned a local photographer to take photos that day, providing its audience with the first aerial views from the tower of the surrounding campus.

The day before, Wheeler had told students that “it’s great to get up on high ground.” He encouraged them to take a “broad view of the campus and college affairs,” using the panorama from what was to be called Sather Tower as a symbolic example.

The party, canceled three times before because of bad weather, included a sky-high banquet — the guests rode to the top and back in a crane lift box — that was catered by a local restauranteur. The menu included roast turkey with cranberry sauce, celery, mashed potatoes, shrimp salad, hot Parker House rolls, pie à la mode and coffee.  Despite the tower’s height and lack of walls, reporters described the guests as dining with “nonchalance.”

According to an Oakland Tribune article, the meal was served by a woman named Vivian Bower after two men turned down the job because of the shaky climb, via ladders and planks, that they would have been required to make to the platform.

“It was certainly an interesting and exciting experience, and the only thing I have to regret is that there were no steps to the very top of the pinnacle,” Bowers told the newspaper. “I should have liked to have seen the view from up there. It was so beautiful as it was that I really did not have time to be afraid.”

Worker on construction of the Campanile

Construction worker with the steel frame and North Berkeley buildings behind him. (Photo courtesy of Berkeley Public Library)

An illustration of Bowers also appeared in the Jan. 31, 1914 edition of the Tribune with the headline “Girl Climbs UC Campanile, Serves Noon Feast In Sky.” A subhead reads: “‘Not afraid, just nervous at first,’ says Miss Bowers.”

Jane K. Sather, a University of California benefactress for several years, asked in early 1911 that various gift funds she’d provided to the university be consolidated to pay for construction of Sather Tower as a memorial to herself. She also had given substantial academic program funds to the campus, and Sather Gate as a memorial to her husband, Peder Sather.

Jane Sather died in late 1911. Tower construction began in September 1913. The bells, whose arrival was delayed by World War I, were not installed until 1917.

During 2015, the campus will celebrate the 100th birthday of the more than 300-foot tower — nicknamed the Campanile for its resemblance to St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice — with many special events, culminating on homecoming weekend that October.