Home | Back issues | sfflier@well.com

September 15, 2008

Topping the bell tower


Locally, it's known simply as “the tower.” San Francisco tour buses stop in the 900 block of Fulton so that tourists can get a good look. On the site for many years, it changes with every season. Here’s a look at the latest incarnation.

My tower in the front yard is a prayer tower of peace built to Saint Francis of Assisi, the namesake of San Francisco and the patron saint of animals.

In many cultures both present and ancient, it is believed that prayers are sent out with bells ringing or prayer flags flapping in the wind. The tower is covered with bells and sound-makers and the San Francisco flag flies at the very top. (There’s also a five foot diameter peace symbol woven into the fabric of the tower’s north face.) These wind-powered sounds are like different voices. . . delicate gentle voices that ring softly with the slightest breeze. . . a full chorus of voices that rise up with strong winds. . . and the louddeep-booming bass tones that occur only when a winter storm is blowing in from south. Humming birds dance in and out and around the tower taking nectar from the jasmine and morning glory blossoms that grace the tower’s face.

The tower is built entirely of found objects and discarded materials. I’ve given new life to things that were deemed useless. Many of them are San Francisco–historically significant. Like the phoenix on our city’s flag, rising up reborn from its own ashes, my tower has risen up and been born again from the “ashes” of discarded things that were thrown away as garbage. (The rebar frame of the tower is from the Fell Street freeway exit that was torn down after the Loma Prieta earthquake.)

The Magic Flute by Mozart, one of my favorite operas, was the initial inspiration for the tower’s construction. It came to me one day when I was wondering what to do with four old Volkswagen hubcaps. Turning the hubcap upside down, the VW initials in the center became AM. . . Amadeus Mozart. In a flash, in my mind, I saw Mozart, the opera, and the mental blueprint of a tower.  From that moment on, his spirit in that opera has followed me and guided me in its creation.

For more photos by Ron Henggeler, go to http://www.ronhenggeler.com.

        — Copyright Ron Henggeler 2008