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He Feels S.D. Could Flash a Peace Symbol

San Diego County Arts Writer

Is he a kindly crackpot or an unlikely visionary?

Bob Thomas, a 71-year-old retired Ford Motor Co. design executive, sees San Diego as the home for a truly monumental tower dedicated to peace.

Paris has the Eiffel Tower. New York has the Statue of Liberty. Why shouldn’t San Diego have the Tower of Peace?

Thomas’ brainchild, which he has carefully illustrated on paper board for presentations, is a white, 1,000-foot-high steel tower, a lighthouse-like structure that would be identical in height to the Eiffel Tower. It would have radio transmission equipment at its peak, an observation level at 900 feet, and a 500-seat revolving restaurant at 750 feet, reached by elevators or stairs.

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Inside, pictures of Nobel Peace Prize winners would be mounted on the walls, and a colorful display of the flags of the world’s nations would spiral up more than 700 stairs. At night a brilliant laser show would emanate periodically from the restaurant and observation levels.

Besides providing San Diego with an internationally known landmark, the tower’s purpose would be to “broadcast the word of peace” throughout the world. And, in name and function, it would be an emblem for our time, Thomas feels.

“The word liberty was the big word in the 19th Century,” Thomas says. “That was the byword,” hence the Statue of Liberty, which France donated to the United States in 1886. “This century, the word is peace. Everybody’s talking about peace. Why not build a tower of peace and have a radio broadcasting peace?”

Thomas has pitched his powerful pavilion for peace to Mayor Maureen O’Connor twice during her Saturday meet-the-mayor sessions, telling her that the city needs a bold statement.

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“Hell, if you’re going to do something, you’ve got to make a splash,” he says of the building’s height. Anything less than 1,000 feet might not be very visible. Thomas said that, if the 500-foot-tall Space Needle in Seattle were placed in downtown San Diego, it would be lost among the high-rises, just as it is in Seattle.

However, the mayor told Thomas it would be tougher finding a site than coming up with the $25 million he estimates the tower would cost to build.

Its height has already posed one problem. Thomas says the Federal Aviation Administration vetoed his first choice of a site, Point Loma, next to the Point Loma Light House, because no buildings there can be higher than 80 feet. It was a logical location, he felt, because of its commanding view and because 1.7 million people visit the Cabrillo National Monument each year.

From an aesthetic point, the mammoth tower, with a base diameter of 300 feet, would dwarf everything else on the point. Indeed, at 1,000 feet, it would be twice as high as any other structure in San Diego.

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An enthusiastic man who acknowledges that “people think I’m crazy,” Thomas got the idea for the tower while watching the Statue of Liberty centennial celebration on TV two years ago. His concern for peace, however, is also manifested in the monthly, peace-oriented TV programs that he produces on Southwestern Cable’s public access channel.

Thomas moved to San Diego with his wife in 1975 from Detroit. With time out in the Army during World War II, he spent nearly four decades designing automobiles for General Motors, Nash and Ford.

He is also a musician who has played the accordion and piano in bands, teaches music to children in his Mira Mesa neighborhood and writes music. He has penned several songs, including “Tower of Peace” and “San Diego.”

Thomas said he was not the only person inspired by the Statue of Liberty festivities. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley was so excited that he commissioned a West Coast Gateway landmark for the city. The design that won Los Angeles’ national contest, however, has drawn a blast of criticism. It is titled “Steel Cloud” and calls for a $33-million pedestrian bridge over the Hollywood Freeway that would feature museums, aquariums and movie screens.

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Sensing that the South Bay will be the new growth region, Thomas has proposed a site on the southern reaches of San Diego Bay to the Chula Vista City Council as the home of the Tower of Peace. The council also wants to hear from the FAA before discussing the matter because of the nearness of Brown Field.

In the meantime, Thomas is seeking $50,000 in start-up money. He figures the tower will attract 2 million people a year and turn a profit for its investors.

“I’m dead in the water unless I get some seed money,” he said. “So far, since I haven’t found the money, I stay happy doing my TV shows.”


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