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The Back Story: The Clock Tower

Do you hear what we hear? This month, UNLV's chiming clock tower gets into the holiday spirit.

UNLV History  |  Dec 3, 2012  |  By UNLV News Center

The clock tower rings out every half hour. (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Photo Services)

When the familiar bells toll on campus this month, they’ll spread a little holiday cheer with “O’Tannenbaum,” “Deck the Halls,” and “Frosty, The Snowman.”

UNLV’s clock tower, located between the law school building and Tam Alumni Center, usually chimes the popular “Westminster” tune every half hour from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Maintained by UNLV facilities electricians, the clock movements and chimes are set and synchronized monthly.

The bells (or rather, the electronic emulation of cast bronze bells) are controlled by an electronic carillon that can play any patterns at any time using a 25-note keyboard.

The lanky steel structure stands near the Talisman sculpture outside the law school, halfway between the Student Union and The Flashlight.UNLV’s clock tower was installed in 1978, thanks to a donation by the Murray Peterson Foundation. Peterson, along with other family members, was one of the original owners of the Westward Ho Hotel and Casino.

Clock towers are often found on university campuses, town squares, and churches. In the 1800s they served a practical purpose since few people had watches and clocks in the home. Today, they are more symbolic rather than functional.

There were plans at one time to erect a clock tower on campus with more heft, something that would serve as an iconic symbol of UNLV. During Robert Maxson’s tenure as UNLV president, from 1984 to 1994 , a campus comprehensive master plan update was ordered from planner Robert A. Fielden. The plan called for a “campus campanile and bell tower” and even offered a rendering in the report of a full brick structure that was to be “a locator on campus to identify the campus’ center of academic activity.” The new clock tower was to incorporate a spotlight with a vertical beam that would shine at night. On special occasions the neon would be scarlet, the report suggested.

About the Clock Tower

  • Installed: November 1978
  • Donated by: Murray Petersen Foundation
  • Made by: Verdin Company, which also manufactured the bells for downtown Las Vegas' Smith Center.
  • Made of: Steel
  • Songs in Library: 181 with ability to record chimes through attached keyboard