Walking along the Outer Battery on your way to or back from the Signal Hill trail you encounter a rickety wooden edifice painted bright yellow with a green sign posted out front that reads: “Never Confuse Education With Intelligence.” This structure is in fact the lower part of the Sea City View “observation tower,” built and formerly maintained by Mr. Albert Sparks, who was raised in a house on this spot throughout the 30s and 40s. In 1961, he tore down and rebuilt the house at 13 Outer Battery and constructed another observation tower directly adjacent.
The tower adheres to the face of the cliff in such a way that it is less a “tower” as such than a kind of protruding, sheltered staircase. Along the rails as you climb the stairs, a myriad of colourful figurines and wood sculptures are affixed to a continuous string of bottled lights. These include plastic bubble bath bottles in the shape of cartoon characters that were donated by children in the neighbourhood (of particular interest is a Superman whose torso is attached to a sweeping black dress while his forearm is raised to his eyes in an attitude that suggests weeping) and wooden model ships and figures (for example, a charming little elderly couple in rocking chairs) carved by the late Robert Piercey, a close friend of Mr. Sparks. At certain times of the year the structure was lit up so that all these strange and wonderful figures were cast aglow, much to the delight of the neighbourhood children.
At the summit of the structure is the small hut that served as the look-out post. From the small window inside, visitors could enjoy one of the best panoramic views of St. John’s spread out below them like a miniature model city with stupid little dinkies squealing recklessly about. This was a natural attraction to tourists, although Mr. Sparks never charged any kind of fee to anyone wishing to enjoy the view. He was a man that considered every other man, woman, and child in the world his friend, and was always happy to meet a new one. He still keeps a small room in which are stored all the photographs, paintings, postcards, and letters sent to him over the years by all these friends from places as far-flung as Australia.
Sadly, Mr. Sparks has been in hospital for just over two years now as the result of a nasty fall he took on the steps in his house. A series of other ailments he has since incurred have prolonged his stay indefinitely. His wife, Hazel, still lives at the house and still welcomes any curious passers-by who like to wander up to take in the view for themselves.
– Jonathan Adams
For more photos of Sea City View, visit our Flickr page.