140 year of Shriners

140 year of Shriners

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Time for city to fix clock

The Jan. 22 Argus-Courier article “Who’s minding the town clock?” looking at the issue of regular maintenance of the town clock was, well, timely.
Articles like this and those submitted by readers have been appearing since 1882 when the clock first started striking out the hours. The clock was never an original part of the Masonic Lodge building plans. It was an afterthought when the local townspeople heard of the new three-story building (it was to be the tallest building in town). They suggested a clock be put on the building as a sign of progress and prosperity of the 25-year old city. The city, however, did not have the funds, so the locals started a public subscription to raise the funds required. They succeeded and the wooden tower with the Seth Thomas clockworks adorned the new building for all to see.
We now refer to it as the town clock because it is the property of the City of Petaluma, paid for by the citizens. It has always been the property of the city — not the masons. The city has always been responsible for its upkeep and repair. A twist did occur in 1934 when the wooden clock tower was replaced with one made of copper that wouldn’t rot. The cost to install the copper tower was $2,000 ($35,000 in today’s dollars). Because the city did have not the money during the depression, another public subscription was started but failed to generate enough money (they raised about $650). The Masons offered to pay the remainder if the city deeded the tower to them. The offer was accepted. The clockworks remain the property of the city to this day. The tower is now owned and maintained by the Masons at their expense.
For several years after the millennium, the clock worked sporadically. Numerous letters were written to the city and the press complaining about our beloved crown jewel of the downtown not working. Initial bids to overhaul the clockworks were around $50,000. After a long search, the Oregon State Penitentiary in Pendleton, Ore., which had a master clockmaker program for its inmates, agreed to fix the clock for $3,000. During the recession in about 2008, the clockworks were removed and sent to Oregon for a complete overhaul, the first time in its 125 years. At that time, the city had no money for the clock repair. The Masons then pledged the full $3,000 for its estimated overhaul costs. After inspection, the cost went to $5,500. A new public subscription call went out to raise the additional funds with the Masons pledging to make up any shortfall of the $5,500. After several months, all work was completed and the clockworks went on public display at the Petaluma Museum for all to see its intricate movement. It was reinstalled in the tower and was once again striking out the hours for all to enjoy for another 125 years.
Here we are today and guess what? The clock is not operating properly. It is not striking out the hours and the townsfolk are complaining again. Why? The city is, once again, not maintaining the clockworks.
Why? Once again, the city claims it has no money to maintain the clock. To be fair, the city has no money for potholes, street light repair and a host of other things. The city likes to mention the “town clock” with pride and it is indeed a well know historic landmark and symbol of our city.
When the clock doesn’t run or chime, it reflects badly on our city. The citizens and the community paid for the clock, replaced the tower, paid to get it overhauled and many hours of time have been volunteered by Simonis Clock Shop in keeping it running. The city ’s investment has been, for years, falling short. Isn’t it time for the city to start paying for its upkeep? Letters anyone?
(George F. Whitten is a machinist and 35-year resident of Petaluma. He serves on the board of directors of a local non-profit property management group.)
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