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Modern Water Towers

Photograph of water tower with CA painted on it viewed through trees
Arboretum water tower with Block “CA” logo, 1960s
Built in 1957, Domestic Water Tower No. 1 remains the tallest and largest of the modern water towers on campus, which was originally a three-tower system.  University Archives Photographs, AR-013

Aerial photograph of UC Davis campus with water tower
Aerial photograph of a growing Davis campus, 1966
Arboretum tower presided over rapid campus growth in the 1960s, including Mrak Hall under construction here.  University Archives Photographs, AR-013
A quotation: fight song
A dairy cow in profile with a water tower rising in the background
Touchdown Tower with dairy cow, 1970
Sometimes called “Touchdown Tower” for its proximity to UC Davis Health Stadium, Utility Tower No. 1 also hovers over the dairy facilities.  Robert Laben Collection, D-246
A water tower reflected in Putah Creek
Arboretum water tower reflected in Putah Creek, 1980s
“UCD” replaced the Block “CA” logo on the Arboretum water tower in 1977 to the disappointment of many students and alumni. The rebranding, for some, highlighted a tension between the university’s unique, agricultural roots, and its arrival as a general research campus in the larger UC system.  Strategic Communications Records, AR-031

Newspaper article with silhouette of a water tower
The Two Faces of UC Davis, 1985
Article in the California Aggie by American Studies professors on the symbolism of the two water towers on campus, representing our heritage and our future. Click on the image to read the full article.
Photograph of a water tower from underneath
Touchdown Tower photographed from below, 1980s
A view up into the weblike underbelly of Utility Tower No. 1.  Strategic Communications Records, AR-031
Water tower white against rain clouds
Touchdown Tower photographed against rain clouds, 1980s
Photographer: Gabriel Unda.  Strategic Communications Records, AR-031
Photograph of water tower under white covering for renovation
Arboretum water tower goes under wraps for sandblasting, repainting, and maintenance, 2000
Over the years, the water towers have required various upgrades, such as seismic retrofitting and a plan to deal with corroding lead-based paint. Neil Michel Axiom Photography Collection, AR-195
Photograph of water tower being pulled down
Sheep Barn water tower being pulled down for demolition, 2002
The third water tower in the modern water system for campus was Domestic Water Tower No. 2, which stood near the Sheep Barn west of Highway 113. In 2002, campus determined that it would be cheaper to build a new ground-level water tank than to refurbish the existing water tower, so the tower was pulled down and dismantled. Photographer: Stan Oklobdzija. California Aggie Photographs, AR-200
Crew examining a fallen water tower
Demolition crew examines the fallen Sheep Barn water tower after a controlled collapse, 2002.
Neil Michel Axiom Photography Collection, AR-195
Photograph of the top of a fallen water tower covered in graffiti
Graffiti found at the top of the water tower, 2002.
The cap at the top of the fallen Sheep Barn water tower reveals evidence of student daredevil activity across three decades. Photographer: Krysten Kellum. California Aggie Photographs, AR-200

Water tower among a tree line
Arboretum water tower, 1999
The Arboretum water tower has had its current branding since 1995. Neil Michel Axiom Photography Collection, AR-095
Water tower lit up at night with comet in the sky
Touchdown Tower with Comet NEOWISE, 2020
UC Davis photographer Wayne Tilcock captured this image in an 8 second exposure as Comet NEOWISE “passed by” Touchdown Tower on its 6,800-year orbit around the sun.  University of California, Davis Web Archives

Photograph of Picnic Day float depicting the water tower
Picnic Day float depicting water tower and Mrak Hall, 1979
The water tower–sometimes the Arboretum tower, sometimes Touchdown Tower–has become a visual shorthand for UC Davis, instantly evocative of the Davis campus. It tends to pop up everywhere, including posters, buttons, refrigerator magnets, water bottles, and even Picnic Day floats, such as this one by Alpha Gamma Rho. Strategic Communications Records, AR-031
Two still images from student film featuring water towers
Two stills from the 2004 film “The Great Tower Incident” by UC Davis students Lok Hwa and Matthew Brewbaker. In this 20-minute horror film parody, the UC Davis water tower comes to life and runs amok on campus when threatened with demolition. Click on the image to view the film online.
Poster for the 2009 Whole Earth Festival
Poster for Whole Earth Day, 2009
The counterculture-inspired poster for the 40th annual Whole Earth Festival at UC Davis featured Touchdown Tower in a surreal view of campus. Whole Earth Festival Records, AR-118
Two water towers at sunset
Both water towers at sunrise, undated
The familiar silhouettes of both UC Davis water towers at sunrise. Strategic Communications Records, AR-031