If you were to pick one building that symbolizes the City of Erie, what would it be?
I think many of us would choose the Bicentennial Tower located at Dobbins Landing. Honestly, it has always baffled me why the choice was made to build a tower in the lowest part of the city. Yet, I understand the reasoning to place the tower in a tourist-friendly location and along the beautiful waterfront.
Designed by the local architectural firm, Weber, Murphy, Fox, the tower was built in 1995 as part of the Bicentennial Celebration of the founding of Erie. As I went through the newspaper articles of the time, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the tower. Some, like me, felt the placement was wrong. Some believed that the Penelec smokestack should be converted to a viewing tower (the stack remains an eyesore and subject to continued controversy). Others just felt it was a waste of money.
Regardless, it was built at a cost of $3 million for improvements to Dobbins Landing and $1.9 million for the construction of the tower. The Erie Bicentennial Commission did contribute some money for the tower, but the majority was contributed by the Port Authority, partly through a lawsuit filed with the Pennsylvania Railroad for waterfront improvements.
My favorite part of the tower is the short wall of bricks along Dobbins Landing as well as bricks inside and out of the tower. Sold for $29.95 each, 7,100 bricks are engraved with the names of Erieites of the time, or members who have passed. Whenever I am at the tower, I look for the bricks with my grandparents’ names who did not live to see the tower completed. I also read that former national weatherman and TV personality Willard Scott has an engraved brick. I do not know where it is located though.
Completed in 1996, the Bicentennial Tower is 187 feet tall. There are 210 steps that go from the first observation deck to the second, near the top. A quick elevator ride takes visitors to that second deck and, if you are lucky, Canada can be seen faintly in the distance. A 7-foot by 2-foot time capsule filled with 3,000 items and argon gas to protect them was buried. Scheduled to be opened in 2095, what excitement that will bring!
Today, the tower attracts locals and visitors from throughout the globe. A ride to the top costs $6 for adults and $2 for children. On the first Tuesday of every month, the cost is free to go up and look at our beautiful city and surrounding Lake Erie. I will meet you up there!