Moonlight tower


Moonlight tower
San Jose, California, 1881

Moonlight towers are lighting structures designed to illuminate areas of a city at night.

The structures were popular in the late 19th century in cities across the United States and Europe; they were most common in the 1880s-1890s. In some places they were used when standard street-lighting systems — using smaller, shorter, and more numerous lamps — were impractically expensive. Other times they were used in addition to existing gas street lighting. The towers were designed to illuminate areas often of several blocks at once. Arc lamps were the most common method of illumination, known for their exceptionally bright and harsh light.

As incandescent electric street lighting became common, the prevalence of moonlight tower systems began to wane.

Contents

Moonlight towers in Austin, Texas

Moonlight Towers
A moonlight tower at night
Location: Austin and vicinity
Nearest city: Austin, Texas
Architect: Fort Wayne Electric Co.
NRHP Reference#: 76002071
Added to NRHP: July 12, 1976

Austin, Texas is the only city in the world known to still operate a system. The towers are 165 feet (50 m) tall and have a 15 feet (4.6 m) foundation. This type of tower was manufactured in Indiana by Fort Wayne Electric Company and assembled onsite.[1] In 1894, the City of Austin purchased 31 used lighting towers from Detroit. A single tower cast light from six carbon arc lamps, illuminating a 1,500 feet (460 m) radius circle brightly enough to read a watch.[2]

The Austin Moonlight Towers were erected, at least partially, in response to the actions of the Servant Girl Annihilator.[3]

When first installed, the towers were connected to their own electric generators at the Austin dam (on the site of present day Tom Miller Dam). Over the years they were switched from their original carbon-arc lamps (which were exceedingly bright and time consuming to maintain) to incandescent lamps in the 1920s, and mercury vapor lamps in the 1930s. Mercury vapor lighting allowed the installation of a switch at each tower's base. During World War II, a central switch was installed, allowing citywide blackouts in case of air raids.

1970 saw the towers officially recognized as Texas State Landmarks. This was followed by the 17 remaining towers being listed in the National Register of Historic Places on July 12, 1976. At this time, only 6 are in their original locations as established by the Board of Public Works and City Council in 1895. Additional designation was given them as State Archeological Landmarks in 1986.

The City of Austin has ordinances in place to protect the towers from demolition; however, since 2004 two of the remaining 17 towers have been taken down from their locations. The towers at 4th & Nueces and 1st & Trinity have been removed due to new construction. It is unclear whether the towers will be replaced, or erected elsewhere.

In 1993 the city of Austin dismantled the towers and restored every bolt, turnbuckle and guy-wire as part of a $1.3 million project, the completion of which was celebrated in 1995 with a city-wide festival.

One of the towers was prominently featured in the 1993 film Dazed and Confused as the site of a high-school keg party, in which the character played by Matthew McConaughey exclaims, "Party at the moon tower."

Moonlight tower in Austin, Texas

Historical marker text

The following is text appears on the historical marker placed by the Texas Historical Commission.

This is one of 17 that remain out of 31 towers erected 1894-95 and in continuous use since. Their carbon arc lights then illuminated the entire city. Now mercury vapor lamps provide beacons for many miles on roads and airway, from dusk to dawn. Austin is said to be unique in this dramatic method of lighting.[4]

Note: Two of the towers were taken down due to traffic accident and construction, with no announced plans to restore them to their previous locations

Austin locations (active & retired)

1976 locations are based on National Register of Historic Places on July 12, 1976. 2010 based on physical visits

Speedway with 41 street, hyde park neighborhood Austin, Texas, 2011.
Number 1976 2010 Location
1 Active Gone West 4th and Nueces
2 Active Active Monroe St. and S. 1st St.
3 Active Active Leland St. and Eastside Dr.
4 Gone Gone East 1st St. and Waller St.
5 Active Active Canterbury St. and Lynn St.
6 Active Gone East 6th St. and Medina St.
7 Active Active E. 11th St. and Lydia St.
8 Active Active Pennsylvania Ave. and Leona St.
9 Active Active E. 13th St. and Coleto St.
10 Active Active MLK & Chicon
11 Gone Gone E. 14th St. and Sabine St.
12 Active Active W. 12th St. and Blanco St.
13 Active Active W. 12th St. and Rio Grande St.
14 Active Active W. 15th St. and San Antonio St.
15 Active Damaged W. 22nd St. and Nueces St.
16 Active Active W. 41st St. and Speedway St.
17 Active Gone E. 23rd St. and Red River St
18 Gone Gone E. 20th (or E. 21st) and Longfellow.
19 Gone Gone MLK (was 19th St.) and Lavaca St.
20 Active Active E. 11th St. and Trinity St.
21 Active Active W. 9th St. and Guadalupe St.
22 Gone Gone E. 16th St. and Brazos St.
23 Active Gone E. 2nd St. and Neches St.
24 Active Gone W. 6th St. and Westlynn St.
25 Active Gone City Park (Emma Long Metropolitan Park)
26 Active Active Zilker Park
27 Gone Gone Dean Keeton St. and Whitis Ave.
28 Gone Gone E. 5th St. and Brazos St.
29 Gone Gone 29th St. and Lamar Blvd.
30 Gone Gone W. 6th St. and Lamar Blvd
31 Gone Gone North end of Granite Dam
Transplant Gone Gone E. Cesar Chavez and Trinity St*

Two towers have been destroyed in traffic accidents, two have been blown down by cyclones, and six have been victims of rust and old age.

  • Was transplanted there after 1976 and removed in 2009 for construction


In front of City Hall, Detroit, Michigan, about 1900.

Detroit

Detroit, Michigan had a particularly extensive system of moonlight towers from the 1880s into the 1910s, with 122 towers illuminating 21 square miles (54 km2) of the city. [1]

New Orleans

New Orleans Riverfront electrically luminated at night, 1883

A series of moonlight towers were erected in New Orleans, Louisiana starting in the early 1880s. One set of towers illuminated a section of the Mississippi River levee, aiding in loading and unloading ships at night in the busy port. A tower at the busy intersection of Canal Street, Bourbon Street, and Carondelet Street was a constructed with a set of 4 water pipes to aid in fire-fighting in the nearby multi-story buildings.[5]

San Jose, California

In 1881, a 237-foot (72 m)-tall[6] moonlight tower was erected in San Jose, California, making it the first city to be illuminated by an electric light west of the Rocky Mountains.[7] The tower was at Santa Clara and Market Streets, and stood until it collapsed in a storm on Dec. 3, 1915.[8]

It was James Jerome ("J.J.") Owens who came up with the idea for the tower.[9] The New York native was a printer by trade.[10] He eventually became publisher of the San Jose Mercury newspaper, and was a civic leader for years.[11] He got the idea after he visited the first electrical lighting station in San Francisco in 1879.[12]

In 1977, a nearly half-sized replica (shown in a photo on the right) was constructed at the San Jose Historical Museum,[13] also known as History San José, located at 1650 Senter Road, San Jose. The replica tower is 115 feet (35 m) tall.[14] It is located approximately 3.2 miles (5.1 km) from the original location, which is about an 8-minute drive from History San José.[15] [2] [3]

San Jose Electric Light Tower replica

References

  1. ^ Texas Historical Commission Atlas
  2. ^ "Progress Report Austin - Legends of Austin 2". Texas Archive of the Moving Image. 1962. http://www.texasarchive.org/library/index.php?title=Progress_Report_Austin_-_Legends_of_Austin_2&gsearch=progress%20report%20austin. Retrieved 4 August 2011. 
  3. ^ Serial Killers and Stoners: 10 Facts about Austin’s Moonlight Towers
  4. ^ Texas Historical Commission
  5. ^ The Electrical Engineer, August 3, 1888, page 90
  6. ^ San Jose Historical Museum Association plaque located beneath the tower. ~~~~
  7. ^ San Jose's Monument to Progress; The Electric Light Tower, page 10, by Linda S. Larson. Published by the San Jose Historical Museum Association.~~~~
  8. ^ San Jose's Monument to Progress; The Electric Light Tower, page 21, by Linda S. Larson. Published by the San Jose Historical Museum Association~~~~
  9. ^ San Jose's Monument to Progress; The Electric Light Tower, page 1, by Linda S. Larson. Published by the San Jose Historical Museum Association.~~~~
  10. ^ San Jose's Monument to Progress; The Electric Light Tower, page 1, by Linda S. Larson. Published by the San Jose Historical Museum Association.~~~~
  11. ^ San Jose's Monument to Progress; The Electric Light Tower, page 1, by Linda S. Larson. Published by the San Jose Historical Museum Association.~~~~
  12. ^ San Jose's Monument to Progress; The Electric Light Tower, page 1, by Linda S. Larson. Published by the San Jose Historical Museum Association.~~~~
  13. ^ San Jose's Monument to Progress; The Electric Light Tower, page 22, by Linda S. Larson. Published by the San Jose Historical Museum Association.~~~~
  14. ^ San Jose Historical Museum Association plaque located beneath the tower.
  15. ^ Google Earth. ~~~~

External links


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