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Tower Takes Hit, Spruces Up

The already stressed fa‡ade took a hit, says the university’s director of operations, Gilbert Carter. “If you ride by you’ll just see steel beams,” he says of what remains of the tower. “The wind just blew it off like layers of skin.”

Fortunately, Carter says, insurance is bearing most of the cost. He says the university hasn’t received a final bill, but estimates it will cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to rebuild the tower. The storm did between $30,000 and $40,000 in damage to the attached building that’s being converted to the arts center.

SMBW Architects is handling the renovations that began in 2002. Carter says it’s a miracle they’re back on schedule. The arts facility should be complete by Jan. 1, he says. But no date has been determined for the tower. It’s aesthetic more than functional, he points out, adding that inside it’s mostly a stairwell.

The unusual tower was designed by Henri van de Velde and served as Belgium’s exhibit in the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The idea was to send the tower back to Belgium to become a university library. But World War II erupted. Shipping all the pieces back to Europe proved to be too dangerous. Consequently, the tower was given to VUU, largely because of its reputation as a prominent college for African-Americans. In 1941 it was reconstructed on the campus on Lombardy Street near Brook Road. — Brandon Walters

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