Right on Chime

The Wanamaker Tower at St. James School rings true after tuneup

After 110 years, the Wanamaker Bell Tower in the St. James church graveyard still needs some major repairs — but at least its chimes are back in tune. David Kasievich, Head of St. James School, led an effort in May to restore the chimes as the first part of a larger restoration of the Tower and mausoleum. Why the chimes first? “We believe it’ll get people excited and maybe attract new fans and supporters for the bigger repairs we still have to do.”

While the chimes had been in need of repair for some time, the carillon bells have rung for years in the Allegheny West neighborhood, starting shortly after St. James opened its doors in 2008. The tolling of the heavy metal bells is rare at a time when many churches rely on bell soundtracks instead of the real thing. Unsurprisingly, they’ve also been a source of neighborhood affection and pride. Working together with neighbors, the St. James community, and patrons such as David Wanamaker (descendant of John Wanamaker), David hopes that the Wanamaker Tower will be restored to its full glory soon.

The Tower and mausoleum, designed by John T. Windrim in 1908, houses the nineteen-note J.C. Deagan, Inc. tower chimes and a chime of bells by one of the oldest bell foundries in the country, the McShane Foundry in Maryland.

We toured the building in May with David, climbing a claustrophobically tight spiral staircase to get to the bell tower where we found the new keyboard and sound system for the chimes. The system stores hundreds of hymns that can be programmed to play automatically throughout the day.

In typical St. James fashion, David surveyed students, their families, teachers, and the RAH community to decide which hymns the new chimes would play. Favorites included Go Down Moses, Lift Every Voice and SingLead Me Guide MeWe Know That Christ Is Raised!

Climbing further up a small ladder, we glimpsed the array of massive bells, one even larger than the Liberty Bell, and got a thrill ringing them by pulling metal cables in the room below.

Contrary to popular belief, the structure was not built by John Wanamaker, the founder of the famous retail chain, but by his son Rodman, who lost his first wife and older brother, Thomas, at early ages (Thomas was was apparently quite a firebrand). In addition to those already interred in the ground floor of the structure, the lower level includes a mausoleum for up to 25 Wanamaker family members. Touring the space with David, he pointed out the cracks that have appeared over time in the structure and may be addressed in the longer term.

For now, the repairs he would like most to address include a full re-pointing of the Tower’s stone exterior, restoration of the giant wooden doors to the two private chapels on the ground floor, and a full restoration of the carillon bell system.

“It’s going to take some time but we think it’ll be a great way to restore a beautiful structure while connecting even more profoundly with our community.”

To lend a hand, of just follow their progress, visit Stjamesphila.org.

The Wanamaker Tower Schedule

Mon thru Sunday (Angelus bells)
6AM, 12Noon, 6PM — 7 days a week

Mon thru Friday (a variety of hymns)
7:30AM, 9AM, 12:30PM, 4PM, 6PM

Saturday & Sunday (a variety of hymns)
9AM, 10AM, 1PM, 2PM, 4:30PM

FREE COMMUNITY MASS & DINNER every Sunday, 5pm – 6pm.

 

 

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