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Bell tower still resonates with many

Memories of bittersweet day lingers 43 years later

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Bell tower still resonates with many

The design of the old Manteca High bell tower was incorporated into The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley when it was built in 2008.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED May 5, 2012 1:46 a.m.

It is the tower that evokes emotion among long-time Manteca residents.

And while it never held water it was the focal point for virtually every major community event for the better part of 47 years when it stood as part of Manteca High.

The bell tower of the original mission-style Manteca High campus has been brought up repeatedly in the debate over the fate of the pedestrian-looking water tower on Wetmore Street that will come down after 50 years.

“It was a shame when they tore it down,” said Sam Bologna of the bell tower that met its demise from a wrecking ball on Oct. 3, 1969.

Bologna immortalized the tower in a scale model he fashioned of the old campus that has been on display for most of the past 20 years at the Manteca Historical Society Museum. It is one of the most popular items in the museum. Bologna also fashioned a model of another school building – the original Yosemite School – that burned in 1948.

Bologna attended Manteca High in the early 1940s before electing to serve his country in World War II instead of completing his high school education.

The bell tower – just like the water tower – was determined to be a seismic safety hazard in the advent of a major earthquake under state mandated standards. Even so, it didn’t come down easy. First, a Save the Tower committee had groundswell support to try to save the icon by using it for activities other than school purposes but it couldn’t convince the school board from moving forward with demolition plans.

When demolition started, the building snapped two cables as crews attemptedto pull it down. They tried a Caterpillar tractor but it made no leeway. Finally they brought in a wrecking ball to level the bell tower.

Roz Leon isn’t thrilled that the city is tearing down the Wetmore Street water tower and she is to this day even less happy with the decision to raze the Manteca High bell tower.

“We don’t save anything in this town,” Leon said noting the stately-looking Whitaker House was knocked down earlier this year at Commerce Avenue and East Yosemite Avenue to make way for a McDonald’s restaurant.

The Manteca Historical Society has gone as far as categorize buildings of significant importance as did the city at one point but nothing more has been done in terms of efforts to preserve historic structures. John Harris - a councilman who is also a history enthusiast - in the past has mentioned the need to try and figure a way of encouraging the preservation of buildings of historical significance. He noted during the water tower debate that he was torn about the decision but it came down to practicality when the cost and the functions were taken into account.

Hernandez - who is a graduate of Manteca High along with Harris - noted the icon staying power of the old bell tower as the Manteca High yearbook is still called “the Tower” some 43 years after it met its demise.

Harris pointed out the bell tower and attached two-story building could have been used for non-school purposes like the old school has at the French Camp School campus. The structure had an auditorium with a stage that could seat 550 people. It was part of the original campus built for $200,000 and dedicated on Jan. 27, 1923.

Harris and fellow council member Vince Hernandez did successfully  lobby Poag & McEwen to incorporate a replicate bell tower into the design of The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley that opened in 2008. Architects used photos of the old Manteca High bell tower to design the new pseudo bell tower that looks over the roundabout fountain just west of the AMC Movie complex.

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