The Philadelphia Story

Restoring the Phillies’ legendary Liberty Bell replica.
The iconic Liberty Bell replica stood at Veterans Stadium for 20 years before “The Vet” was demolished. At a salvage sale, C.W. Dunnet, a Philadelphia-based foodservice vendor, purchased the bell but left it exposed for 15 years.

Philadelphians are passionate sports fans. They’re tough on hometown teams when they underperform, but their exuberance in celebrating success is hard to rival. As the place where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were adopted, Philadelphia’s history also forges its identity. These defining characteristics converged when Major League Baseball’s Phillies reacquired a key piece of team history to live outside Citizens Bank Park, their home ballpark, and hired Cima Network (Chalfont, PA) to restore the Phillies’ bell to its former glory. 

RECLAIMING A LEGEND

Cima’s relationship with the Phillies began with the 2016 season, when we built freestanding, routed-urethane letters that read “Opening Day” for the first home game. Keith Denny, Cima’s executive vice president and co-founder, worked with the team to develop the sign, which garnered tens of thousands of social media posts. We’ve also designed, fabricated and installed wayfinding, interior signage and environmental branding for the team. More recently, James Trout, the Phillies’ director of marketing events and special projects, approached Cima about reanimating the 18-ft.-tall, 2-ton-plus, long-dormant bell.

In 1983, the Phillies hired now-defunct Cutler Signs to build a replica of the famous Liberty Bell. It was installed in the Phillies’ former home, Veterans Stadium, over an upper-seating deck. After the 2003 season, “the Vet” was closed and demolished to make way for Citizens Bank Park. Trout discovered that C.W. Dunnet, a local food purveyor, had purchased the bell. 

A GROUNDHOG RUNS THROUGH IT

Prior to making repairs, Cima Network gutted the bell’s old innards and hired a sandblaster to remove layers of rust, corrosion and old paint. The interior required delicate attention and was blasted using baking soda.
Prior to making repairs, Cima Network gutted the bell’s old innards and hired a sandblaster to remove layers of rust, corrosion and old paint. The interior required delicate attention and was blasted using baking soda.

Trout was taken aback by the bell’s deterioration: “A groundhog and a couple of cats ran out from under it. It was hard to imagine bringing it back to life.” Mike Horvath, Cima’s senior project manager who supervised the project, noted that withstanding 15 years of exposure to Philadelphia winters had taken its toll. Rust and metal fatigue were widespread. Holes pockmarked the face from where standoffs had been installed to accommodate the PK housings for the original neon.

Prior to repairing the bell, Cima gutted it and outsourced the rust removal to a local sandblasting company. The exterior was sandblasted with silica sand; the softer interior required baking soda for blasting. Cima’s team rehabbed the structure, which comprises aluminum clad over a steel support frame, by MIG-welding the entire structure and, where needed, using structural adhesive and fillers to bond components. “Because the bell would be freestanding, wind load was a major concern,” Jim Klauder, Cima’s production supervisor, said. “The welding and patching process was rigorous.”

BEING AUTHENTIC

Because the reinvigorated bell would be situated in the concourse by a primary entrance, aesthetics were especially important. To emulate the original Liberty Bell, Denny and Paul Hlywiak, a Cima production designer, visited the Liberty Bell at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia. Paul took photos and created color swatches to mimic the bell’s hue. He created four different samples and presented them to team officials. 

Although the Phillies liked the authenticity of matching the original bell’s color, the plan called for illuminating the sign with programmable LED animations, so they preferred more contrast to make the lighting pop. Hlywiak and Cima’s painting team developed a black custom faux-finish with subtle red undertones (a natural for the Phillies) and covered the bell with several protective coats of AkzoNobel Grip-Gard primer followed by BEHR latex paint.

For Hlywiak, working on the bell was more than a job. His father, Peter, had been a Cutler employee who had painted the original. “I mentioned working on the bell at dinner one night, and my dad mentioned working on it at Cutler. I couldn’t believe it,” Hlywiak said. “I was so excited to work on something my dad had a hand in creating.” 

IN A NEW LIGHT

The bell was now structurally sound and had been coated to withstand years of changeable Philadelphia weather. But, without proper lighting, the bell would sit lifelessly and add little to the fan experience. “A bell has curves and contours that make lighting it more challenging than your typical sign,” Horvath said. 

Enter Jack Tusman, Cima’s estimator and lighting designer. For the bulbs that span the bell’s perimeter, he specified Philips Color Kinetics iColor Flex LMS Gen2bulbs to match the quantity of incandescent bulbs on the original bell. He said team officials were originally considering incandescent bulbs for the new bell, but when it became clear that it would reside in close contact with the public, the safety of non-breakable LED bulbs provided the obvious choice. 

For the luminous tubing, Cima installed 130 linear ft. of GLLS Neon Flex RGB Pixel bendable material, which provides the brightness of neon but with better energy efficiency, safety and dynamic content thanks to addressable modules. To power the bulbs and tubing, we installed five Mean Well LED drivers. The power traverses a 1.5-in.-thick conduit, which runs beneath the sign and through custom-fabricated power boxes. 

With each RGB LED module in the sign addressable, the Phillies plan to generate the system’s content with a DMX-512 controller to create animated programs that tout Phillies successes, observe holidays and celebrate the victories of the city’s other pro-sports teams.

WEDDING BELLS

The area near the bell’s installation was blocked by balustrades, so an Elliott HiReach crane was required to maneuver the bell into place. Cima completed all MIG welding in the shop to simplify onsite installation.
The area near the bell’s installation was blocked by balustrades, so an Elliott HiReach crane was required to maneuver the bell into place. Cima completed all MIG welding in the shop to simplify onsite installation.

Cima fabricated the bell in two pieces that would be mechanically joined onsite. Eliminating the need for onsite welding ensured a more efficient, safer installation site. We secured the bell meticulously to a flatbed trailer and took it downtown.

The city had installed bollards around the site, so we had to implement an 80-ft.-reach crane to position the bell’s parts into place. Philadelphia’s Driscoll Construction installed the sign’s concrete foundation, into which we secured the sign. After several days on-site, the bell was ready for the Phillies’ Opening Day in late March. 

The revitalized bell provided an ideal backdrop for an Opening Day marriage proposal, and inspired an article for The Athletic, a sports-news site, for which Denny and Hlywiak were interviewed. With the signing of Bryce Harper and other stars, the Phillies are poised for success. And Cima is proud to have played a role in resurrecting a symbol of the team’s past that will now stand proudly as a harbinger of its promising future.


EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES

Router: MultiCam 8 x 12-ft. router, multicam.com
Metal Fabrication: Miller Multimatic 215 welders, millerwelds.com; Eagle roll bending machine, eaglebendingmachines.com
Painting: AkzoNobel Grip-Gard primer, signfinishes.com; BEHR latex paint, behr.com; SATAjet 4000 HVLP spray gun, sata.com
Lighting: Color Kinetics iColor Flex LMX Gen2 bulbs, colorkinetics.com; GLLS LED Neon Flex luminous tubing, martin-supply.com; Mean Well LED drivers, meanwellusa.com
Crane: Elliott HiReach crane, elliottequip.com

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Signs of the Times August 2019

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