Oklahoma State University has given new life to the distinctive tower adorning the
Student Union’s western roof. The cupola’s hand-spun copper balustrade and railing
have been replaced with nearly identical but longer-lasting materials. The OSU Student
Union originally opened in 1951. CMSWillowbrook, out of Chickasha, Oklahoma, managed
Part of the restoration challenge was reaching the cupola safely. Cary DeHart, founder of CMSWilllowbrook, said crews installed a scaffolding system that surrounded the copper cupola tower.
“First, we had to do the scaffolding and structural supports for the scaffolding before the team could even inspect what needed to be done,” DeHart said. “The scaffolding part of this project was huge.”
Around 45 people worked on the 18-month project. Restoring the copper cupola took research and reverse engineering, DeHart said.
“First, the CMSWillowbrook team deciphered how the 38-spindle balustrade located inside
the steeple was made,” he said. “We discovered each spindle was actually 18 pieces
of spun copper soldered together. We determined how the top and base railings were
made, but we looked for months to locate a coppersmith who could spin the copper pieces
to recreate the spindles. This is a lost art from the past.”
CMSWillowbrook worked with a number of craftsmen to ensure the finished product is almost identical to the original — but more durable and weather resistant. In addition to the new spun copper, African teak, a hardwood used in ship building that is resistant to insects and moisture, was inserted into the top and bottom rails for stability.
Tracie Brown, interim director for the Student Union is pleased with the final product.
“We are thrilled to have completed the restoration of the Student Union cupola,” she said. “For almost 70 years, the Student Union has been an iconic building on this campus hosting programs and events as well as a backdrop for many campus visitors’ photographs. We are ecstatic to give it the facelift it needed so it can continue to serve in that capacity for many years to come.”