About the Tower

The 165-foot freestanding tower has been a fixture of the Columbus skyline and beacon for the congration and the community since it was constructed in 1942. Architect Eliel Saarinen's design for First Christian Church put both the congregation and the community on the national design stage as one of the first Modernist religious designs in the United States. The tower is currently getting much needed repairs. If you would like to donate to the tower fund, use one of the links below. 

Donate to the Tower Fund


Please select the Capital Projects option


Please put TOWER in the memo - 531 5th St. Columbus, IN 47201

August 28 - September 8

A - As indicated earlier, the NE corner of the tower (zipper area) has received special attention because of the damage that has occurred from excessive brick movement.  The zipper interior has been rebuilt with concrete blocks that have been filled solid with concrete and rebar and then tied horizontally into the existing brick. Reconstructing the corner exterior brickwork has started as seen in the photo on the left.  New limestone panels and perimeter brick trim around the panels, also as seen below in the right photo, to replicate the original zipper and match the upper east and west walls in the bell chamber, is now underway.  The reconstruction of the zipper exterior can only be done one limestone panel every day because the mortar between each panel needs to set before a new panel can be added above.   


B - Each limestone zipper grid panel weighs approximately 1,000 lbs.  When trimmed with brick, the panels will appear as 4 separate limestone inserts in the brick zipper and upper clock chamber walls.  



August 14 - 25

A  & B - Wilhelm continues to remove and replace brick on the faces of the tower.  In photo B one can see the new brick surrounded by a lighter colored mortar.  These bricks and mortar will be cleaned and stained to match the tower's existing brick pattern.     


C & D - The tower's NW corner adjacent to the "zipper" openings has deteriorated much more than the other three corners.  Engineers have summarized this was due to the impact that the original zipper openings had on the overall tower structure.  In the early years of its existence significant cracking was observed in this area.  The remedy, installed in the mid 70's, was to pour in-place a concrete backup (patch) to the NW corner on the inside of the tower.  The thinking was that this addition would stop or at least slow down the damage from the structure's movement in this area.  Because of the relative excessive displacement and the damage it caused, this corner is having to undergo more repairs than the other three.  The impact of the movement to the zipper frames, corner brick and the masonry on the north face can be seen in the photos below.  Also one can observe one side of the reinforcing concrete patch placed on the inside of the tower zipper.


E & F - The original zipper repair plan was to replace the horizontal steel lintels with new and then add the brick frame for the limestone panels to the lintels.  But, after seeing the damage underneath the face brick in and around the zipper, the engineers developed a new fix.  The lintels are being removed entirely and will not be replaced.  A new continuous concrete block wall is being installed up the NW corner openings.  New brick and limestone panels will then be added and attached to the block to replicate the original appearance.  In the photo below the new concrete block wall is being constructed in the zipper and which will then be refaced with limestone and brick to replicate the original design.







July 31 - August 11

A - Recent work has focused on tying the original brick north and south faces of the clock chamber to the new concrete block walls facing east and west.  This can be seen by the horizontal lines on each corner of the tower's clock chamber block walls.  These lines are actually stainless steel cables that are epoxied into holes drilled into the brick and then turned 90 degrees and epoxied into cut grooves in the new block walls.  


B - Work has begun on the interior.  The existing corroded steel grates have been removed and the openings in each floor are being cleaned and refurbished.  New galvanized steel frames and grating will be installed along with lighting and roof and floor drainage piping.  The photo below is taken from the first floor looking up through the openings in each floor to the roof.


C & D - New bricks are arriving and being stained.  These pieces will be used to repair the frames around the "zipper" window frames and rebuild the clock chamber exterior grid around new limestone panels.  Others will supplement original brick and will fill in where damaged bricks are cut out and removed in the tower walls.  Some bricks will be stained prior to installation and then possibly restained or "touched up" in place after installation.





July 17 - 28

A - Concrete block walls on the east and west faces are now complete along with the parapet walls on all 4 sides. Structurally this is a major milestone.  The walls and inner support steel that have been added in the clock chamber and level immediately below, will greatly improve the tower's stability.  In the photo below, you can see where "new" bricks are being added to the areas where damaged bricks have been removed.  These bricks and the area around them will be cleaned and stained if necessary to match and blend in with the original brick.


B - The parapet wall completed at the top of the tower.


C - A closeup of exposed brick at the top of the tower typical of the conditions found on the north and south faces.  The bricks that are "sticking out" are those in a header position and will remain unless they are damaged beyond reuse.  The outer course of horizontal or stretcher bricks have been removed.  Mortar between the header bricks is in the process of being removed.  When courses of new stretcher brick are added back then all of the joints will be cleaned, filled with new mortar, struck, cleaned again and stained to match the old brick if necessary.  Also you can see pins that have been added over the years to help hold the brick together where significant cracking was observed to help hold the tower face together until permanent repairs, that we are undertaking now, are complete. 




July 3 - 14

Wilhelm continues the tower reconstruction, with both the east and west upper inner concrete masonry unit (CMU) walls or more commonly known as concrete block walls now complete.  These new walls, in the upper chamber, are significantly more complex than what is seen from the outside.  Before the new wall is started, holes for 3/4" stainless steel 4' long all-thread bars are drilled starting at the bottom and then horizontally every 10' into the existing north and south tower walls.  The all-thread rods are then epoxied 12" into the existing brick.  The 36" remaining portion of the bar extends horizontally and is then tied together horizontally across the block courses by adding 3/4" rebar to the epoxied bars on the opposite face connecting the two walls.  Holes for vertical rebar are drilled into the existing horizontal brick wall at the base every 8" and this rebar is epoxied into place.  Concrete block is then laid horizontally across the face in 8" courses.  All of the block center cavities are then filled with concrete and sections of 3/4" rebar are inserted into the wet concrete.  After curing, what results is a solid CMU wall reinforced vertically and horizontally and tied into the existing north and south brick walls.  After curing, the block walls will be faced with a limestone and brick emulating the original grid openings.  This design and build will result in a significantly stronger and more stable tower.

West clock chamber inner wall complete.

This shows the inside of the tower with new steel bracing permanently attached to the wall. This is on level E, which is just below the clock chamber.  This steel along with the new steel structure in the clock chamber will help to further strengthen the whole tower.

June 30

New eastern concrete block inner wall.         

Western wall underway.                     

Water and its freezing and thawing over the tower's 80+ year life, has caused a significant amount of damage high on the tower's NW corner.  The weakened brick will be removed and the architect, engineer and contractors have devised a fix using stainless steel cable, rebar and epoxy mortar to stabilize the existing wall, rebuild the damaged sections and eventually tie it all together forming new stable wall sections.

Deteriorated brick on NW Corner             

SS Cable, rebar and epoxy mortar

Water and its freezing and thawing ovWilhelm has been able to salvage more than 80% of the existing exterior face brick to be reused.  This will reduce the quantity of new bricks that will be necessary to be used and manually stained to match the existing brick colors and pattern.  Below is a mockup built of new bricks placed adjacent to the tower.  Three companies were invited to create these mockups to demonstrate their ability to match the brickwork in the original tower.  All of the tower brick from repairs completed in earlier years that do not match will be stained to fit the overall brick the tower's 80+ year life, has caused a significant amount of damage high on the tower's NW corner.  The weakened brick will be removed and the architect, engineer and contractors have devised a fix using stainless steel cable, rebar and epoxy mortar to stabilize the existing wall, rebuild the damaged sections and eventually tie it all together forming new stable wall sections.









New brick and mortar mockup adjacent to the original tower wall.

Week of June 27

Tower reconstruction is progressing well. The interior block wall on the eastern side of the upper third is complete and tied into the original north and south walls. Wilhelm is completing the parapet wall (perimeter wall above the roof) on the east side.

Work has begun removing the brick around the window openings on the west side. Similar to the east side a new concrete block wall will be constructed to stiffen and strengthn that portion of the tower. Loose and damaged bricks are also being removed from the tower face on all sides. Some of these bricks will be cleaned if they are structurally sound and so far about 80 % of the exterior brick can be reused which is better than anticipated.

Week of June 9

Work has begun installing the interior concrete block wall on the east side of the upper third of the tower (area immediately below the platform) in the area where the "windows" were.  This wall and its companion block wall on the west side will further strengthen the upper third of the tower when completed.  These walls will be faced with a brick grid and limestone panels replicating the previous window layout.

A third sample (farthest right) of brick and mortar has been built for comparison to the existing combination on the exterior of the 81 year old tower.

Just below the platform in the above photo, bricks and mortar have been removed (dark spots) because they were damaged beyond repair.  New bricks will be mortared in place. 




Large batch mortar mixers have been moved in by F. A. Wilhelm, the contractor, to allow for blending cement, sand, and water creating the necessary mortar in both strength and color for brick replacement and tuck pointing.  









A truckload of premixed cement and aggregate to result in the required mortar color has been received and is being unloaded. 

Week of May 26

The brick window framework from the east side of the tower around the "window" openings has been completely removed exposing the newly added structural steel which will remain.  From this same photo, workers are removing the clock face which will be cleaned, refinished and added back with a new clock mechanism.  Demolition has also started on the west face.  A temporary roof drain line is in place on the exterior of the clock face (not visible in this photo) for rainwater to escape without interfering with day to day operations.

In an earlier update brick reclamation was mentioned.  In the photo below one can see the recovered brick wrapped in shrink wrap.  The limestone coping stacked adjacent to the construction building will also be cleaned and returned to the top of the tower parapet wall.  The brick in the foreground will have the old mortar chipped off, cleaned and stacked for reuse.  The reusable bricks are all from the exterior of the tower which the contractor will reinstall to help color match the old and new sections of the repairs.


The clock face has been removed to be cleaned and painted.  New hands have been ordered and will be installed on a modern motor and drive unit that will keep accurate time and spring forward and fall back with ease.

Week of May 15

The pedestrian walkway to the courtyard from Fifth St. has been improved and better covered to protect those who need to enter the courtyard area.


The cleaning and salvaing of the face brick being removed from the tower exterior is going well.  Approximately 70% of this brick is able to be cleaned and temporarily stored for reuse.  This will result in the process of color matching the "new" brick with the original being a little less difficult.

Minor changes to the limestone panels (photo in update above) have been approved so the supplier can proceed with cutting the new panels to replace the fiberglass coverings over the existing openings.


Progress on the tower removing sections of the wall on the east face above and around the openings has progressed this week.  One can see the newly added gray steel structure which will support the remaining brick structure while the removed areas are reworked.  This framework will remain in place once the tower is complete which will "stiffen" the upper third of the tower.

Week of May 2 & May 8

Much work is being done in the clock section adding structural steel that will support the north and south tower walls while the existing grills on the east and west side walls are removed and rebuilt.

Two potential exterior brick suppliers have constructed brick and mortar samples for review.  One will be selected by the Architect.  This brick, along with salvageable existing brick, will be used to reconstruct the tower grid and patch other areas on the tower exterior walls.  Mortar samples for color matching of the existing mortar have been prepared and are being reviewed by LJA.

A sample of the limestone block that will be used in the vertical "zipper" on the west wall and in the upper grid has been received for review.  Minor revisions will be made before the final blocks are cut for use.  

The fourth and last work platform to allow exterior brick replacement and repair is being installed.  Deconstruction of the parapet wall around the roof has begun.  This wall and the roof will be removed to allow for the beginning of the teardown of the brick gridwork around the upper openings.

Structural work inside the top third of the tower is complete and the roof has been removed.  The exterior brick rework on the north wall (clock face wall) has begun. Bricks that are salvageable are being carefully handled, cleaned and saved and will be reused.  The horizontal rows of brick that can be seen in this photo on the clock face wall, where the brick is being reworked, are bricks placed in a "header" position every 7th row.  This pattern is common throughout the church.  The 6 rows of brick in between the header rows are laid in the "stretcher" position.  The header rows tie the brick face back into the tower structure.


The 4th work platform has been completed allowing work now to proceed on all 4 sides of the tower.  The platforms can be tied together to all move up and down the tower together or individually if necessary.  In each platform section is a smaller portion that can be moved up and down independently from the main platform.  This allows the removed bricks to be lowered to the ground in a safe manner. Salvageable brick can then be sorted and cleaned for reuse back on the tower. 


The clock hands have been removed and will be replaced.  A new modern clock motor and gear mechanism has been selected and will allow for the clock to be adjusted between daylight savings and standard time from an iPhone.