Historic bell tower to be resurrected in Solana Beach


By Claire Harlin


The bronze bell that rang for decades at St. Leo Mission — proclaiming hundreds of births, marriages and masses before succumbing to termites in 2004 — has been restored and will soon be part of the community once again.

On Jan. 29 at noon, the bell tower will be resurrected at St. Leo in Eden Gardens, which has been for years the Spanish-speaking sister Catholic church of St. James, located at 625 S. Nardo Ave. Referred to locally as “the mission,” St. Leo was built by parishioners themselves from the ground up at 936 Genevieve St. after the original church, made out of an old military barracks building, was torn down due to Interstate 5 expansion in 1959.

The bronze bell, which was topped with a white cross, was a visual and audible staple of the community until 2004, when parishioners discovered that it was termite ridden and had to be demolished.

It was not until a few months ago that Baker Iron Works, the oldest running business in Solana Beach, donated its time and energy to restore and redesign the bell tower and cross. Susie Bruun of the family-owned iron shop said the steel used in the project is worth about $9,000 alone — not including the six-foot-tall, three-dimensional steel cross that will adorn the top of the tower.

“You just do it because it’s a part of you,” said Bruun, a longtime member of the parish. “There would never be any question that we wouldn’t do something like this.”

Bruun’s family bought the steel business in the 1920s and it is still going strong — just like the steel it produces. Not only will the St. Leo bell tower never again fall due to termites, but it was finished in such way that rust will never be an ailment.

Victor Tostado, a longtime parishioner, said the bell “has been silent too long.”

“The bell will again become a significant and integral part of the spiritual life of the community,” he said.