The Singing Tower
Bok's Singing Tower, a stunning work of art and architecture, is also a musical instrument! The name "Singing Tower" is the traditional name for carillons back in Edward Bok's native Netherlands. High in the upper reaches of the tower, screened behind intricately carved marble grills, is a set of 57 bells that can be played from a large keyboard. There are daily recitals at 3:00 and the Tower plays the time on the half-hour beginning at 10:00 AM.
To me the tower is even more beautiful to look at than to listen to. The choice of construction materials, clean lines, gracefully sculpted grills and unique "Florida Deco" sculptural elements combine in a sophisticated whimsy of style and beauty. The architect Milton B. Medary contructed the tower of 4 foot brick walls supported by a steel frame. The tower is faced to the 150' level with a salmon colored coquina rock from Saint Augustine. The base, buttresses and top of the tower are graced with pink and gray Georgia Etowah Marble - the combination is stunning!
The tower is 205 feet tall and is surrounded by a 15 foot moat (it doubles as a Koi pond) in the tradition of medieval watchtowers. Fifty-one feet square at the base, it changes form at the 150 foot level tapering to a 37 feet (on side) octagon at the top of the tower.
As the primary purpose of the tower is to house the carillon, the interior of the tower is "off-limits" to the general public. Guarding the entrance to the tower is the imposing Golden Door. Metalworker Samuel Yellen's door is composed of 32 hand-wrought bronze panels that tell the story of the six days of creation. If you were to pass through the great door you would be enchanted by the Founder's Room, which served as Mr. Bok's personal study.
The next two levels contain mechanical equipment and once housed water tanks to feed the irrigation system. Level 4 is a workshop, level 5 houses the Anton Brees Carillon Library. Level 7, two-thirds the way up the tower, is where the carillon sits in all its glory, its music filtered through spectacular gothic-arched windows.
On the south face of the tower at base level is a massive sundial that features sculptor Lee Lawrie's interpretation of the 12 signs of the zodiac (photo at right).
At the 30 foot level... ...a frieze encircles the tower with a dashing parade of marble wildlife (in photo at right just above the sundial). Florida herons and pelicans wade and fish while a fox and a goose, and a hare and a tortoise portray scenes from Greek fables.
At the 130 foot level...
... are windows with intricately carved marble grilles in soft pastel colors. Represented are animals that inhabit the sea, like jelly fish and sea horses in the lower portion of the window to herons and other birds populating the top.
At the 150 foot level... ...stand 4 marble finials, carved deco eagles that stoically survey the horizon beyond Iron Mountain. This is the point at which the tower changes from a rectangle to an octagon. At this level is one of Florida's most beautiful works of art - the eight carved grilles behind which reside the carillon's bells. These 37' tall gothic style windows boast spectacular pastel green and blue grilles of sinuous plant growths and exuberant wildlife. Peaceful, yet vibrant, I can gaze at these for hours (or at least until I get a crink in my neck!)
At the top of the tower... ...perched at each of the octagon corners of the tower's parapet are 8 huge herons. Standing fourteen feet tall, these marble finials (think "art deco gargoyles") are arranged in pairs and top-out the structure at 205 feet. Each of 4 male herons stands with fish in beak adjacent to his hen and her nestlings. Separating the heron couples is marble grillework carved in a gothic lace pattern.
An American Taj Mahal
The sculptor, Lee Lawrie reasoned that since the tower was gracing a nature sanctuary that it only made sense to use plants and animals as the subjects of the many decorative pieces he created to adorn Mr. Bok's American Taj Mahal. The resulting combination of nature with an art deco flavor is fun and sophisticated.
A carillon is a set of at least 23 bells that are tuned to the musical scale. These are played from a two-level keyboard that is called a clavier. A musician, called a carillonneur, uses his fist to strike the large treble "keys" and his feet to play the bass keys on the lower keyboard. The Bok Tower Carillon has 57 bells that are tuned into 48 tones giving it a 4 octave range. Two bells are tuned to the high notes and are rung simultaneously. This provides the highest tones the same richness as those at the lower end.
The bells were made in England in 1928. They are cast from bronze which is an alloy composed of (about) 75% copper and 25% tin. The largest bell weighs 11 tons and is 8.5 feet wide at its base. The smallest (the highest note) weighs only 17 pounds and is only 7 inches at its base.