Remember the Giralda Tower Bells? KCQ Wants to Know.
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by Kate Hill | firstname.lastname@example.org
We need your help with this one.
When construction ended in 1967, the Giralda Tower became the tallest structure on the Country Club Plaza. A smaller version of the more than 800-year-old Giralda tower in Seville, Spain, it included a carillon of 600 bells that could be operated manually or by an automatic roll player. Originally, the bells were set to chime on the hour and music was played daily.
Judith Cappaus recalls hearing the carillon play “America the Beautiful” in the mornings after she moved to the Plaza area in 2003. But she has not heard the bells in several years and wondered what happened to them. She turned to What’s Your KCQ?, the community reference series produced by the Kansas City Public Library and The Kansas City Star, for answers.
While the construction and architecture of the Giralda Tower are well documented, the status of the carillon is not. Newspaper, database, and internet searches yielded no recent information. We also reached out to the owner of the Country Club Plaza, Taubman Reality, which acquired the property in 2016. Its current management team also had no details.
Here’s what we do know:
The 138-foot Giralda Tower and accompanying, 38-foot Seville Light Fountain at West 47th Street and Mill Creek Parkway (formerly J.C. Nichols Parkway) were dedicated October 12, 1967. Felix Morena de la Cova, mayor of Seville, Spain, flipped the switch to turn on the lights and fountain waters during an event attended by 43 visitors from Seville and about 1,800 Kansas Citians. The spectacle marked the beginning of the Sister Cities program between the two communities.
Construction of the tower had been in the works for decades. Plaza developer J.C. Nichols had wanted to build a replica of the Giralda tower as early as 1929 but could not find the right location for it. When the Chandler Landscaping and Floral Company left the corner just southwest of the former J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain, his son, Miller Nichols, decided it would be the perfect site.
Kansas City’s tower is approximately half the size of its Spanish counterpart. Its adjoining retail building originally housed Swanson’s, a high-end department store. Today, that space is home to the Cheesecake Factory and Forever 21.
Details about the carillon inside are difficult to find, though not impossible. Over the years, The Star has printed a few brief articles about it.
In 1967, it was reported that the bell system was manufactured by Schulmerich Carillons, Inc., of Sellersville, Pennsylvania. During the dedication ceremony, the Liberty Memorial’s carillonneur gave a 30-minute concert from the new tower. The first song was “People” from the musical Funny Girl.
Not everyone enjoyed the musical stylings. Plaza resident John A. Dawson submitted a letter to The Star complaining about the bells in 1973. Though he was two blocks away from the tower, a rendition of “My Darling Clementine” caused his “very frame and soul [to be] shattered and irreversibly damaged by the terrible gaucherie of these abominable bells.”
If Dawson’s letter spurred changes to the carillon (or its tuning), it was not reported in the newspaper.
During the 1970s, Christmas carillon concerts became an annual event on the Plaza. From 1977 through at least 1981, minister, pianist, and carillonneur Janet Bowser Manning, regularly performed holiday music during the busy shopping season. Instead of being up in the tower, Manning played the bells from a keyboard in Swanson’s basement furnace room.
It is not clear if the carillon’s operating system originally was – or still is – located in the basement of the building.
After 1981, the trail mostly runs cold. The tower’s bells are occasionally referenced in Plaza promotional materials in the 1990s and into the 2000s, but only that they chimed to mark the hour or half-hour and that concerts occasionally took place.
This is where we could use your help. When is the last time you remember hearing the Giralda Tower bells? Do you know someone who played them or performed maintenance on them? Have you ever been inside the tower itself? Email us at email@example.com.
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