Image courtesy of East Coast Design Studio. This architectural rendering shows the idea for the fire tower on Fire Tower Road.
“With the fire tower gone, the land would be worth more, but Harvey doesn’t want to do that, and neither do I.”
By NATALIE SAYEWICH
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Architects, by design, are problem solvers.
So when Jeff Brooks of East Coast Design Studio noticed the dilapidated fire tower on Fire Tower Road and started to learn about its history, he began to formulate an artistic solution.
A lot of work has gone into Fire Tower Road in the past few years.
The road, which recently was widened, has become a major Greenville passageway and a popular route to the rapidly growing Winterville area.
Along that road, which is a testament to the growth of the area itself, stands its namesake, a metal tower nearly 120 feet tall that has seen better days.
The fire tower originally was used for visibility in the event of a fire to give advance warning to the community. Though the date it was built is unknown, there is evidence of it being used as early as 1954, according to local historian Roger Kammerer. Back then it stood at what is now the intersection of Greenville Boulevard and Evans Street. It was moved to its current location in 1966. It has since stopped being used and because of modern technology, it no longer serves a purpose.
It stands on a large parcel of open land, and now is wrapped at the bottom by an orange plastic fence. A metal staircase zig-zags to the top. At some point, someone decided to climb up the tower and bash in some of the windows.
But despite its condition and the fact that it is a potential safety hazard to anyone brazen enough to step over the plastic fence and climb it, the tower remains a part of Greenville’s history, which is why it has not been torn down.
Harvey Lewis of E.R. Lewis Construction Co. acquired the tower and the land it sits on from the state several years ago. He and Greenville businessman Parker Overton own the surrounding land.
Because of its prime location the land would be worth more without the fire tower on it, but demolishing a piece of Greenville history is not something Lewis and Overton are willing to do.
“With the fire tower gone, the land would be worth more, but Harvey doesn’t want to do that, and neither do I,” Overton said. “We want to keep the fire tower. But the fire tower is old. It does need work on it in the future.”
So when Brooks approached the pair with his architectural renderings, he presented a possible solution to the conundrum.
Brooks’ suggestion entails remodeling the fire tower with colored glass or plexiglass, transforming it into a piece of art and using the land it sits on as a public area. The idea was inspired by artist Tom Fruin, who similarly transformed a water tower in New York City.
“The colored glass could be purple and gold for ECU, blue and white for Pitt Community College, the high schools could be involved,” Brooks said. “It gives a way of the public being reflected in this piece of art. We could do memory bricks leading up to it. We could have the benches underneath it engraved.”
The main barrier of the project is money. Brooks estimates it could cost anywhere between $250,000 and $500,000 to complete the project, assuming some of the materials are able to be salvaged and the tower does not have to be moved farther away from the street (the city would have to make an exception to laws requiring a ‘new’ structure to be 50 feet away from the road).
Brooks is not looking for public funding. The hope is that community members and local businesses will want to get involved, through both donations and ideas, so that they feel a sense of ownership of the tower.
Overton said he and Lewis would contribute to fundraising efforts but community involvement also would be important.
“It’s kind of like building a church,” he said. “If you had one person go in and build the whole church, the rest of the members would never feel like it’s theirs.
“It’s something that needs to be done by everybody, and the fire tower is a project that could service the city. It could represent the university, it could represent the community college, the high schools.”
Overton just had returned from Scottsdale, Ariz., and had been impressed with the Taleisin West Promenade Spire, a 125-foot spire designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, when Brooks showed him the plans.
“It’s a landmark,” he said of the spire. “This fire tower over here is a landmark here in Greenville. That’s what we’re trying to do is to put landmarks in Greenville; rather than tear something down, to save it for the future.”
“We don’t want to get rid of it, but we want to find a new purpose for it,” Brooks said, “to still treat it like it’s important and it’s a landmark, but to give it a new purpose which would be public art. It would be rethinking its meaning.
“Before, it was a symbol for a warning sign. Now it’s a welcoming symbol, like a lantern, for the fire tower district. By creating sort of a new identity for it, not only do we satisfy the purists, but we also give the new people who come to the city a way to identify the area. If we can come together as a community to save a community landmark, then the community wins. That’s all I’m trying to do is start a positive conversation.”
To contribute or learn more about the project contact Jeff Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Natalie Sayewich at 252-329-9596 or email@example.com.
via The Daily Reflector.