Approaching the downtown post office a couple of weeks ago,
I glanced up at the Town Clock to check the time. I’m sure others have been as surprised
as I was to see that the hands of the clock were missing! I walked around to
look at the other three faces and found the same thing – all of the clock’s
hands were gone.
The words of an old song popped into my head: “Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?” Without getting into the metaphysical implications of those questions, my simple answer (still in my head) was: yes, I care. That’s why I looked at the clock! Where are the hands?
The next day, the Sentinel
ran an article, explaining that the old clockworks (made in 1900) were
being replaced with a new electronic clock, and that the hands would be
replaced when the work was finished.
That incident got me thinking about the interesting history
of our town clock and its journey to its present location. Some of the story came out in the Sentinel story, as staff writer
J. M. Brown interviewed historian and native Santa Cruzan Geoff Dunn. Among the
interesting facts was that the chimes were shut off in 1929 because neighborhood residents complained about the noise (!?). Another interesting note was that the clock was removed and stored for more than a
decade before its placement in the plaza in 1976. Anyone know where it was?
Some of the clock’s earlier history has been covered
previously in this blog. The Town Clock was originally a tower that sat
atop a 2-½ story mansard-roofed building on Pacific Avenue,
built in 1873 by the Oddfellows (a fraternal order). The lofty tower and
cupola (plus its central location) made the building a downtown landmark, with
its big four-sided clock that could be read from blocks away. Look through the SCPL collection of
historic photographs and you’ll notice that clock tower in the background
of numerous downtown scenes.
The front cover image on
Leon Rowland’s Santa Cruz: The Early
Years (cover design by Michael Banta) was either painted sometime between 1873 and 1899 or painted from a
photograph made at that time. It shows the original clock tower. In 1899, the tower
was destroyed in a fire. A new tower, re-designed in more of a Spanish Colonial
Revival style (as was the rest of the building), stayed put until 1964, and is
essentially the same structure that survives today atop its 1976 brick base. Much more
recently, a 1995 fire damaged the Town Clock, but not seriously.
A side note about that 1899 photo showing the clock tower after the fire: at the far left, you can see the second County Courthouse (later known as Cooper House). Completed in 1894 after the first courthouse fell victim to the most destructive fire in downtown history, that tall square tower with the pointy roof didn’t last too long. It was removed because of damage from the 1906 earthquake (compare to this later photo). Tall towers on older buildings have not fared well in Santa Cruz.
Sources (both essential to any local history library):
- Chase, John L. Sidewalk Companion to Santa Cruz Architecture (3rd ed. 2005)
- Rowland, Leon. Santa Cruz: The Early Years (1980). Santa Cruz, Calif: Paper Vision Press.