AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — In 1894, Austin purchased 31 moonlight towers from Detroit.
By 1980, only 17 of the 165-foot towers still stood, and of those, only six were in their original locations, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Since the 1890s, the large lamps, originally called simply “electric light towers,” bathed much of the existing city in soft light that, then as now, resembles the silvery glow of the moon.
Some towers have been reassembled. Some have been moved.
One serves as the skeletal anchor for the Zilker Holiday Tree. It was assembled from the parts of several towers.
Others have been immortalized in movies "Dazed and Confused," documentaries “Last of the Moonlight Towers,” and at least one annual festival Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival.
The Moontower Saloon raised a replica on its 11 acres in South Austin.
According to Austin historian Jeff Kerr — co-creator of the documentary film — the local moonlight towers are the only functioning ones left in the world.
And now there’s a new one.
It’s nowhere near as tall as the 19th-century streetlamps, but it’s a rather startling presence in the private Liberty Hill backyard of retired civil engineer Bob Wucher.
“I’m a lifelong Austinite, so have always been familiar with them and have been following their history,” Wucher says. “My dad and younger son also have an interest in Austin’s history and the towers would occasionally come up in conversation. Dad and I also shared a liking of soft lighting, moonlight.”
Wucher started the project in early 2019 and completed it late last summer. Powered by a solar panel, it is 29 feet tall, or 18% of the size of the historic towers.
“I strive to use existing material whenever possible in my projects,” Wucher says. “The tower itself I bought secondhand from a ham radio operator in Copperas Cove. The base, elevator, light framework and guy wire poles I either had on hand or found at thrift or antique stores. The solar hardware I bought off the web. I don’t weld so it is mostly bolted together, with a little glue.”
Before you get into a car in order to catch a glimpse Wucher’s moontower, it is not visible from the street on his curving, heavily wooded block.
“It doesn’t light up the entire backyard because of the trees,” Wucher adds. “It’s a nice dappled effect though.”
Wucher was the sole constructor, but he got some help in May.
“Where the group comes in is during repair and modification,” Wucher says. “The neighbors help lower the tower — it has a pivoting base — with ropes and a pulley.”
During the time that Wucher worked as a civil engineer, he inspected and evaluated dams.
“I’ve spent the first years of retirement building projects for the grandkids,” Wucher says, “zip line, space ball, tree deck.”
Sorry, he would not be tempted to assemble a moonlight tower for somebody else.
“Think not,” he says. “That challenge has been met.”