Monday, January 30, 2012


Sue me, shoot me, commit me for admitting this: But I happen to LOVE water towers, and I always have!
Perhaps that love goes back to childhood, when every small town seemed to have a water tower with the town's name emblazoned unapologetically across it. Water towers in those days were not politically incorrect; who even KNEW what that phrase meant? And they were not perceived as unsightly; they were simply THERE.
Or perhaps my misguided love for those functional, raised water-storage structures goes back to my student-flying days. Student pilots navigated by visual flight rules and not by instrument, and water towers were SO visible, and painted with the town's name, they were yet another confirmation that your route was correct.
These days, I recognize that no-one wants to share his backyard patio with the legs of a metal bohemeth. In that setting,a big metal structure towering over your roof-line might be too commercial, too intrusive, too intimidating...
For these and other reasons, water towers joined the NIMBY objects---"Not In My Back Yard!" And that, ironically, sometimes worked in their favor. There was still a need for these towers, "ugly" or not, and some officials became a bit creative in the final look, incorporating a bit of artistry, though not as much as they might have.
For instance... Decades ago, a water tower was to be built at the border of a local township. Residents were nervous about the tower's effect on their neighborhood. A township trustee sympathized, saying SHE'D like for the completed tower to look like a tree! As it turned out, the tower (purposely or not) ended up looking a bit like an ice cream cone! All that would have been needed to complete the effect was to paint the color of an ice-cream flavor on the rounded top.
Years before that, residents in a western area of our county complained that a neighorhood water tower had taken on the color of rust--a color not approved of, under any circumstance, in or near their civilized neighborhood! From that time forward, a different pastel color was painted on that tower every few years, and neighbors stopped complaining. One woman actually told me the colors were "very Monet."
Then there's the water tower that was one of my favorites for many years---the red-and-white striped tower off Orion Road in Painesville Township; it had the wonderfully happy look of a circus balloon. How that came about is anybody's guess, but people seemed to like it.
And oh! who wouldn't love that caroussel-themed water tower in Madison! Travellers on I-90 needed only to glance up to see the colorful merry-go-ground ponies prancing around the whimsical skyborne sphere.
Water towers also caught me eye when my husband and I wandered through the west in the 1990s. We were amazed at the number and variety of water towers, old and new... vintage water towers made of planks, with fancy metal tops; newer water towers with shiny yellow smiley-faces; water towers made to look like coffee pots or pigs or cowboy hats, painted with cowboy art... The designs were endless, and I sketched them in my travel notes.
Then there was that late-afternoon more than 10 years ago, in a shady corner of the pretty St. Mary's Cemetery in the south of Painesville, when I looked around to admire the trees and greenery around me. It was then I noticed, rising up through the trees like a great balloon, the nearly finished profile of the top of a brand new water tower! All it needed for completion was a coat or two of paint.
The tower had been ingeneously tucked into a tiny parcel among the trees near the curve of the highway near the cemetery's eastern border. By my informal calculation, the tower's base rested a good 40 feet below the grade of the land on which I stood.
"A good choice," I told myself with satisfaction. "Innocuous even for those who are not water tower devotees. And since only the dead could easily see it, who is there to complain?"
That week, the tower became the topic of my newspaper column, and I ended the column by suggesting color possibilities. Color, after all, can make all the difference!
Reading my words with a trace of a smile, my editor friend looked up from the page and declared: "Maybe they should paint it rose."
They didn't. They painted the tower a lackluster beige. Ah... It could have been so much more.