Lost in plain sight
In my quest to see all 57 Liberty Bell replicas cast in 1950 as part of a U.S. Treasury Department savings bond drive, I’ve learned there are many more full-size, functional Liberty Bell replicas in this world — in locations far and wide — from fondue restaurant in Delaware to a park in Tokyo, to a front yard in Lomita California.
Some bells fall into disrepair. Some bells end up mothballed in a warehouse, like at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Some bells simply, inexplicably disappear. This is the story of one such bell — lost in plain sight. In Phoenix, Arizona. How does a 2,080 pound Liberty Bell replica disappear in the middle of America’s fifth-largest city? We’ll get to that. But first, we’ll start where every bell is born — in the foundry — with someone who loves it very much.
Phoenix cattle baron Phil Tovrea Sr. was on a business trip in May 1950 and happened upon the Paccard Bell Foundry in Annecy-le-Vieux, France. As fate would have it, Paccard was casting the original Liberty Bell replicas commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Department as promotional tools for a bond drive.
The Tovrea Stockyards, sometime before 1950
Tovrea met fifth-generation foundry president Alfred Paccard and was impressed enough to order his very own Liberty Bell replica. The Liberty Bell is a fittingly accessible American icon. In 1950, or present-day, If you’ve got the money and somewhere to put it, you can have your very own Liberty Bell. Mr. Tovrea had plenty of money and the perfect place for his Liberty Bell.
Like Paccard, Tovrea knew a few things about carrying on the family business. In 1883, at age 22, his father, Edward Ambrose Tovrea, arrived in Arizona from his native Illinois (on a freight wagon, as legend has it ). Living out the American dream, the elder Tovrea opened a butcher shop, slung a ton of meat, earned the moniker “Big Daddy,” and became one of the biggest cattle barons in the west.
Mr. Tovrea had plenty of money and the perfect place for his Liberty Bell.
By the 1920s, the youngest of five sons, Philip Edward Tovrea Sr., started to assume the patriarchy from his father and earned his own nickname, “Big Phil.” The Tovrea empire flourished under Big Phil’s leadership. The Tovrea Land and Cattle Company became one of the largest feedlots in the world. The estate grew to include an eponymous castle. In 1947, Helen and Big Phil Tovrea opened the Stockyards Steakhouse on the grounds of the actual stockyards.
The original location of Tovrea’s Liberty Bell, on the grounds of the Tovrea Land and Cattle Company, in front of the Stockyards restaurant.
This unlikely friendship between a larger-than-life American cattle baron and a fifth-generation French bell maker led to what may have been the first privately-owned Liberty Bell replica in the world.
Cast at the same time or shortly after the original 57 bells, Tovrea’s Liberty Bell arrived in Phoenix only months after the state’s official replica, #14, on display in the Arizona State Capitol’s courtyard. Tovrea’s bell has no serial number but otherwise is identical to the other Liberty Bell replicas.
Arizona’s official Liberty Bell replica. photo: Robert English
In October 1950, Paccard returned the visit to his American friend, stopping to see Tovrea in Phoenix on his way to Independence, Missouri for the dedication ceremony of Liberty Bell replica #54 — a friendship token and return gift from the city of Annecy France to President Truman’s hometown.
An article in the Arizona Republic from October 1950 details Paccard’s return visit to Tovrea:
Text: A BELL MAKER who really knows his Liberty Bells was in Phoenix Saturday.
He’s Alfred Paccard, whose foundry in Annecy France produced the replica of the Liberty Bell now displayed at the capitol building and those in each of the 47 other states.
Further, he’s the great-great-great-grandson of Antoine Paccard, who in 1796 created the Liberty Bell now in Independence Hall, Philadelphia.*
Alfred Paccard is in Phoenix returning a visit to Phil Tovrea, the president of the Tovrea Land and Cattle Company, 5509 East Washington Street.
Tovrea was a guest of Paccard in Annecy in May while touring France. While there, Tovrea inspected Paccard’s foundry and took a liking to the replicas of the Liberty Bells being made for the 48 states.
So he bought one to mount in front of Tovrea’s.
THE BELL is en route from New York to Phoenix. It will be set up in front of Tovrea’s in a week or so.
Paccard flew into Phoenix Saturday from San Francisco.
He’s on his way to Independence, Mo, where he will present the replica of the Liberty Bell to the relatives of President Truman’s before (visiting) Iowa next week.
The bell for Independence is a return gift from the city of Annecy, who were presented with a Bell by John W. Snyder, secretary of the Treasury, Sept. 4.
Caption: Alfred Packard, left, owner of the Packard foundry in Annecy, France, gives specification on the replica of the Liberty Bell which Phil Tovrea Sr. bought in France in May. Tovrea, president of the Tovrea Land and Cattle Company, will mount the replica in front of the company’s administration offices, 5001 East Washington Street, next week. — (Republic Staff Photo)
As fortunes come and go, so too did the Tovrea empire. In the second half of the twentieth century, the businesses were sold off, the city of Phoenix purchased the castle, and a mysterious murder rocked the family.
While the Stockyards restaurant carried on under new ownership, the surrounding properties were abandoned and shuttered. Sometime between the ’50s and the aughts, the Liberty Bell disappeared. In plain sight. In the middle of Phoenix.
In 2004, the former Tovrea property was purchased and painstakingly restored by the Jokake Companies, and the City of Phoenix added the Stockyards restaurant to its Historic Register. It was during the 2004 renovation that the Liberty Bell replica rose from the ashes.
Erica Veach of Jokake Companies, who brought this story to my attention, explains, “It was lost in the brush when the company purchased the property. They didn’t know it was there.”
While other suitors wanted to raze the entire property, which likely would have spelled the end for the forgotten bell — in another stroke of fortune, the new owners had a passion for historic preservation. Jokake’s risk and investment paid off, and they got a little more than they bargained for. Veach adds, “When they realized what it was, they put it into storage until construction was complete and then reinstalled it with its original mount.”
“It was lost in the brush … they didn’t know it was there.”
Phil Tovrea’s Liberty Bell replica today. photo: Erica Veach
Fifty-four years after its initial installation, Phil Tovrea’s Liberty Bell was beautifully reinstalled close to its original location — in front of the restored industrial building which houses the Jokake Company’s corporate offices along with other tenants. The adjacent Stockyards restaurant is thriving as a reminder of Phoenix’s agricultural heyday.
On a personal note, this is the first article I’ve written on a bell I have yet to visit. I’m looking forward to a trip to Phoenix sometime when it’s nice and cold in Colorado. It will be the first time I see two bells in one city, and I can’t wait to enjoy some steak and some liberty — just like the cattle barons did.
* Not True. London’s Whitechapel Bell Foundry cast the original Liberty Bell.