At Berkeley’s Campanile, love is in the air

Not everyone can hear them, but wedding bells ring in the Jane K. Sather Campanile. The iconic tower, now 100 years old, has a history of attracting couples to its airy, head-in-the-clouds observation deck to say “Yes!” and “I do!”

“You’re above everything,” says Lilyanne Clark, a UC Berkeley Visitor Services staff member who, as part of her job, helps facilitate Campanile marriage proposals and weddings. “People love the university and feel the same way I do about the tower: It’s special.”

Visitor Services has no formal log of how many proposals have happened there — many take place quietly, without the office’s assistance. Staffers estimate they’ve helped arrange about a dozen engagements and two weddings in the tower in the past 20 years. As for the Campanile’s recently renovated esplanade, between 12 and 15 couples tie the knot there each year.

Alumni Joey Wong and Grace Lean will marry beneath the tower in March 2015. (Photo by Jenny Dee Photography)

Alumni Joey Wong and Grace Lean chose the esplanade for their outdoor wedding in March, an image of the Campanile for the invitations and free tickets to the tower for their guests. Wong, who works at the College of Chemistry, says he has fond memories of “early morning walks toward campus with the Campanile half-covered in fog and bells playing.”

“The Campanile can be seen from miles away and will serve as a great beacon for our guests,” adds Lean, an employee at a biotech firm. In the 1960s, the Campanile was special to her uncle, who will officiate at the wedding. A Stanford University student at the time, he and his future wife, then a student at Berkeley, chose the Campanile as their meeting spot. On the esplanade, “they would sit under the trees,” says Lean, “and talk for hours.”

Campanile love stories run the gamut, from a fiancée-to-be who overslept while her boyfriend waited in the tower to propose, alongside friends in taffeta and tuxedos, to a student who held out on her boyfriend’s proposal until she could get him to the tower and fulfill her dream of saying “yes” on the observation deck.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, below are two romantic tales from the tower; please contribute yours on a special page of the Campanile’s centennial website.

Whitney Duim and Andrew Wetzel

Proposing to, and later marrying, girlfriend Whitney Duim at the top of the Campanile seemed natural to Andrew Wetzel, a Berkeley alumnus now doing post-doctoral astrophysics work at Cal Tech.

In summer 2014, newlyweds Andrew Wetzel and Whitney Duim take in the could see forever after their vows on the observation deck. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Wetzel)

In July 2014, newlyweds Andrew Wetzel and Whitney Duim could see forever after their vows on the observation deck. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Wetzel)

In 2006, while a Ph.D. student in astronomy, Wetzel spent many hours a day in Campbell Hall, next door to the tower and its ringing bells. After learning that Berkeley offers classes on how to play the 61-bell grand carillon, Wetzel embarked on three and a half years of training.

“It was my musical home; I was there almost every day to practice,” Wetzel says of the 300-plus-foot tower, one of the tallest free-standing clock-and-bell towers in the world. He was taught by University Carillonist Jeff Davis, whose program to teach students to play the carillon is the nation’s most extensive.

Wetzel adds that playing the carillon “was a great balance to astrophysics.”

In summer 2010, at the end of his Ph.D. program, Wetzel invited Duim, then a Stanford Ph.D. student, to watch him perform his last carillon recital in the Campanile. The instrument is in the center of the observation deck, in a room with windows on all sides. Afterward, Wetzel says, he surprised Duim by asking her to marry him.

The couple returned to the tower last summer, on July 11, for a small, 5:30 p.m. wedding, timing the end of it with the Great Bear Bell tolling the 6 o’clock hour above them and Davis playing the daily, 10-minute carillon concert that follows.

“It was July, it was great weather, and afterward,” recalls Wetzel, “our party of eight went down to the base of the tower for a mini reception on the esplanade.”

Their wedding day won’t be Wetzel and Duim’s last visit to the Campanile. “It now has so many layers of meaning to me,” Wetzel says of the tower. “It’s where I played the carillon, it’s a special part of the Berkeley campus, it was the backdrop for my engagement and wedding. I feel it’s a part of me.”

Adrian Taghdiri and Tala Mohebi Taghdiri

In April 2008, Adrian Taghdiri and Tala Mohebi had their first date at an Earth Day fair on Memorial Glade, near the Campanile. They both were seniors majoring in the political economy of industrial societies; today, they both are attorneys living in Los Angeles.

Tala Mohebi accepted Adrian Taghdiri's proposal at the Campanile.

Tala Mohebi accepted Adrian Taghdiri’s surprise proposal at the Campanile in April 2014. (Photo by Ian Chin Photography)

Last April, the couple returned to the Bay Area to celebrate six years together. But while Mohebi thought they simply were strolling down memory lane as they walked around campus before dinner at Chez Panisse, Taghdiri was harboring a secret. He’d consulted with Visitor Services to plan an after-hours wedding proposal in the tower, complete with a red carpet strewn with rose petals, a photographer, refreshments and friends on the Glade below spelling out “Tala, marry me?” in giant white letters.

“The Campanile is the star of the campus, the center point, where you can see across the Bay,” says Taghdiri. “I wanted to find a place to propose that was special to both of us.”

They each had loved visiting the Campanile as students. One recent Valentine’s Day in Los Angeles, the pair, as a nod to the tower back in Berkeley, decided to eat at the Campanile, a restaurant built by Charlie Chaplin.

On the day of her engagement, Mohebi was oblivious to what Taghdiri had planned. As the couple walked into the lobby of the Campanile to take a nostalgic ride to the top, Visitor Services staff played along with the ruse, treating them like strangers, yet making sure the observation platform was empty of tourists.

The unsuspecting girlfriend saw the petal-covered carpet, yet thought the decorations might be part of an Easter event, or leftovers from someone’s wedding proposal. “It didn’t register until he said, ‘Turn around, I have something to tell you, and got down on one knee,” she says.

Afterward, Mohebi waved at the 50 or more people on the Glade – some of them strangers — who were clapping loudly. “And it turns out that the bells coincidentally rang the same time that she waved — at 5 p.m., on a clear-skied evening,” says her husband.

“For me,” he adds, “the Campanile couldn’t have been a better place, and things couldn’t have gone more smoothly.”

The pair married last month.