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Toward the end of the 19th century the growing metropolitan area’s demand for water was outgrowing its existing water delivery system. The pumps that were used to send water through the City created dangerous surges in water pressure. To equalize that pressure a standpipe measuring five feet wide by 100 feet tall was built. But while this satisfied the functional needs of the system, it did nothing to satisfy the need for beauty and architectural ornamentation of the era. Thus the Tower was erected in 1898 to camouflage the standpipe.
The Tower was built in a French Romanesque style of rusticated limestone, buff brick and terra cotta on its face. On the base are a griffin and vine-like scrolls. Inside, 198 iron steps spiral around the standpipe, ending in an observation deck where visitors can enjoy a 360-degree view of the City.
WATER TOWER BECOMES PART OF CITY’S ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE
As the city continued to develop other options for water service were built and by 1929 the Compton Hill Tower was no longer needed and was retired. By this time it had hosted thousands of people who came to see it, to make the climb to the top and to just enjoy the beautifully landscaped park. It was a great favorite during the 1904 World’s Fair. The Tower was occasionally opened so visitors could once again make the climb to the top but had to be closed to the public in 1984 when it was discovered that asbestos surrounded part of the tank on the Tower’s interior. For more than ten years the Water Tower stood untouched and began to deteriorate badly. Large cracks were forming, windows were missing or broken, and the terra cotta roof needed repairs. Architectural detail on walls had weathered away. In 1995 the City was faced with the possibility of demolishing the Tower. Residents and neighborhood associations in the areas around the Tower immediately raised an outcry and offered to work with the City in repairing and maintaining the structure. Their voices were heard.
In 1999, the completion of a $19 million renovation was celebrated with a festival that included food, music, entertainment and tours of the Tower. Since then, under the stewardship of members of the Water Tower & Park Preservation Society, Inc., the Tower has been open several times for neighborhood celebrations. The Society currently includes over 125 friends and supporters and is led by a volunteer Board of Directors that works closely with the Water Division to continue to preserve and improve the Tower and its surroundings. Currently the Society is working on a long-term master plan that will recreate the historical landscape design of the park, restore its original ponds and fountains, develop space allocated for large gatherings renovate the historic landscape, restore the park’s public restrooms and amend the park’s accessibility. The Society welcomes new members. If you are interested, please click here for more information. Your help is always welcome in the efforts to ensure that future generations will continue to have this beautiful and historic monument to enjoy.