CHELSEA — As far as landmarks go, there’s nothing traditional about the checkered red-and white water tower at the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea.
Its supports are rusted, its tank empty. The base of the 150 -footstructure is surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire.
But for 60 years, the state-owned tower atop Powder Horn Hill has signaled to many that they’re almost home. Early next year, it will disappear from its perch overlooking Boston’s skyline to make room for a new long-term care facility for 154 veterans.
“That’s my favorite landmark. I love it,” said Stephanie O’Malley, a nurse who was walking her dog, Lance, near the tower recently. “But if it’s going to be more housing, that’s a good thing.”
“We are proud of the water tower’s significance as a local landmark and we look forward to memorializing this piece of history in the upcoming construction project,” she said.
In October, state officials broke ground on a $199 million project to build the Community Living Center, which is expected to be completed in 2022 and will replace the long-term care facility now in use.
The state said it tried to incorporate the tower into plans for the new facility, but decided against it, citing “site constraints” and the poor condition of the structure. It was decommissioned in October 2011 when a new pump station was activated to serve the Soldiers’ Home.
On Nov. 30, the Soldiers’ Home hosted a farewell ceremony for the water tower during which people shared memories, admired old photographs, and got a button featuring an aerial photo of the structure.
Matt Frank, a former city councilor, said the tower is visible from just about anywhere in Chelsea. Residents take pride in it, he said, because it represents the veterans who live at the Soldiers’ Home.
“It was always a beacon of pride for the city, even in the dark times back in the eighties,” Frank said, referring to the years before Chelsea slid into receivership in 1991. “It was always something you’d look forward to seeing. You always knew you were home.”
Frank and his cousin took the aerial photograph of the tower that’s on the button distributed at the ceremony.
The tower holds sentimental value for many because it was a silent witness to events both monumental and mundane for many city residents.
Frank said his paternal grandfather spent years in the home’s Alzheimer’s unit, and his maternal grandfather was a regular patient. His father coached tee-ball at neighboring Malone Park and took his family there to watch Boston’s fireworks on July 4.
“The water tower is a symbol, and it means a lot to a lot of people as a landmark and a guiding beacon,” said Frank’s father, Richard J. Frank, an Army veteran who recently moved to Tewksbury after 42 years in Chelsea.
Christine Tron, 60, an Army veteran who grew up in Chelsea and spent 32 years in the military, said during flights to Boston she’d watch for the tower to come into view, signaling she was almost home.
“It’s going to seem really strange not seeing it,” said Tron, who now lives in Peabody and attended the farewell ceremony. “It was comforting.”
Luis Rijos, 51, said the tower is “one of the places that everyone knows” and helps him find his way if he doesn’t have his smartphone with him.
“I don’t have a sense of direction,” said Rijos. “I go by the tower. The closer I get to the tower, I know I’m near the house.”
As he walked his rat terrier, Chewy, near the tower recently, Rijos said that he wished the structure could be preserved.
“There’s nothing beautiful about it. It’s just a symbol of Chelsea,” he said. “It’s just a monument. It should be kept.”
Beatrice Lovely, a native of Stockholm who lives near the tower, said the structure was pointed out to her the first time she visited the area six years ago.
When her mother visits from Sweden, Lovely said she takes walks in the neighborhood, using the tower to keep track of where she’s going.
“It’s nice to be able to see something from far away,” she said. “You can find your way back as long as you head toward the water tower.”
Ousman Jallow, who moved to the neighborhood six months ago, said he won’t miss the tower. A long-term care facility for veterans, he said, is a worthy replacement.
“I think veterans deserve that,” he said.
Christine Kenney, who lives in the Admirals Hill section of Chelsea, recently completed an oil painting of the tower, which she plans to donate to the Soldiers’ Home.
While working on the painting, Kenney visited the site several times, she said, and met a man who claimed to have climbed the tower when he was younger.
“It’s a Chelsea icon,” she said. “I know a lot of people are going to miss it. I wanted to memorialize it.”