University of California From Above

Having set foot on a couple UCs as a student and a few more as a visitor, I couldn’t help but notice about the jutting towers that rise above the rest of the campus. I knew that my undergraduate university had a couple tall water towers that have nice stories behind them; I read a little bit about the namesake for my current school’s prominent concrete mast; and I guessed that UC Berkeley’s tower had to have some sort of historical significance. I wondered whether the other Universities also had giant, proud displays of architectural dominance. As it turns out, most of the schools in the UC system have some sort of skyward artifact, and with a liberal definition of the word “tower”, I’ll highlight some of these interesting heights that overlook the best public undergraduate university system in the world.

UC Davis Water Towers

Nostalgia sets in when I think about the University of California, Davis, my alma mater. Even the rustic water towers, which complement the small-town appeal of Davis, stick out in my mind like they stick out above the rest of the campus. The white structures of painted steel rise above other buildings on campus, often contrasting the bright and clear blue skies that are wont to hang above Davis. The university is like a city within a city; the campus provides its own infrastructure. Water, sanitation, police, fire, airport; the university does not rely on the City of Davis for any of this.

There are two water towers on campus. One is right near the arboretum, a long stretch of plants and trees along the banks of Putah Creek. This tower can be seen from the highway, just beyond the Mondavi Center. I can remember many breaks between Linear Algebra and the physics discussion that I helped teach where I would sit at the base of the tower and read. The other tower, sometimes called “Touchdown Tower” is right across the street from the football stadium. Since I worked for athletics, where sometimes our only duty would be checking tickets at the gates, there would be many Friday and Saturday evenings that I would spend watching the skies turn orange behind the tall towers. The water towers of Davis might not have rich and exciting histories compared to these other towers, but they remain special to me.

UC Santa Barbara Storke Tower

From the cliffs above Hendry’s Beach in Santa Barbara, you can just barely see the university campus in the distance. The most striking feature, of course, is the 175 foot-tall bell tower. Storke Tower holds the claim as the tallest steel/cement structure in the entire county of Santa Barbara, so it’s hard to miss if you’re visiting the university.

Thomas M. Storke was a Santa Barbara local who became the editor and publisher of Santa Barbara News-Press after graduating from Stanford University in 1898. A rancher, postmaster, politician, and a media magnate, Storke was an influential figure in Santa Barbara’s development. His most prominent accolades came when the John Birch Society claimed that Eisenhower’s administration and US Chief Justice Earl Warren had communist ties. Storke won the Pulitzer Prize in journalism for his editorials on the topic. Another crowning achievement for Storke was his involvement in the promotion of Santa Barbara State College to a University of California campus. Storke tower was named in honor of the man’s achievements.

UC Berkeley Sather Tower

If Sather Tower was included in Wikipedia’s list of tallest education buildings in the world, it would come in at 21st. The massive structure rises 307 feet above the campus, making it the third tallest clock and bell tower in the world. It’s easily the tallest structure on this list. Inside the tower rings the “Great Bear Bell”, a 10,500 pound cast metal bell as well as 60 other smaller music makers. The Great Bear Bell, named for the school’s mascot, has an engraving of the constellation Ursa Major (part of which forms the Big Dipper). Visitors can ride up to the observation deck of Slather Tower (for free, if you’re a student). Interestingly, the tower’s cool, dry interior is perfect for preserving fossils, and Slather Tower hosts a few fossils from the La Brea Tar Pits.

University of Santa Cruz Tree Nine                     

Of all the UC campuses, it just has to be Santa Cruz’s that would have its most famous “skyscraper” be a tree. While most people might picture beaches and boardwalks when picturing Santa Cruz, those who have been to the campus know that it actually sits on the heavily forested hills overlooking at the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Trees are abundant; redwoods and firs climb high above the campus’ buildings. Tree Nine is over 100 feet tall; definitely not the tallest tree on campus, with California Redwoods that reach above 150 feet.

However, Tree Nine is unique because large, wide branches stretched along the base, all the way up the tree, and enticed daring students to climb to the top and catch prime views of the campus and the Monterey Bay below. At one point, a homemade rope ladder was placed near the bottom to give climbers a boost. Of course, with liability issues, something had to be done, and the bottom 25 feet of branches were cut down in 2010.

And the others…

As it turns out, my thought that every school had a giant tower was somewhat misinformed (due to a small sample size). Indeed, each school could make some claim of an interesting tower or a giant building, but these claims wouldn’t have such interesting stories. Instead, they would be better summed up in a lightning round style à la bullet points.

  • UC Riverside is probably the last of the UCs that can claim a bona fide tower. UCR’s carillon reaches 161 feet above the ground. This bell tower typically has live performances every Wednesday during the academic year.
  • While technically not on campus, the 150-foot solar tower at Mt. Wilson Observatory has been “observing the Sun every clear day since 1912”. The tower is operated by UCLA’s astronomy and astrophysics department, and so it technically counts as a university tower.
  • The “Great Wall of Irvine” is not technically a tower, nor a structure of any sort. However, if I can call a tree a tower, I can definitely count UC Irvine’s basketball team as well. The Anteaters are led by Mamadou Ndiaye who does indeed tower over most of the competition at 7’6’’.
  • Merced’s best attempt to stretch high is its tallest structure on campus. Two 40-foot curving arms, gifts from local wineries, sit in the center of campus. The structure is called Beginnings, an appropriate name for the youngest UC campus.
  • Tioga Hall, an 11-story tall residence hall, is UC San Diego’s tallest housing structure. Each year, students stuff a giant pumpkin (weighing from 300-400 pounds!) with candy. Then, they push it off the building, and assumedly, everyone grabs what they can from the mess left behind from this giant, orange piñata.
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