The historic street clock of Reno, Nevada, first appeared on Virginia Street in front of Ginsburg Jewelry Company in November of 1935. Businesses often placed these “street” or “post” clocks in front of their establishments to promote themselves; they were especially popular with jewelry stores. Years later Reno's clock was moved to a shopping mall and now is to be preserved downtown.
Street clocks trace their mechanical lineage to the medieval tower clocks of Europe, but United States clockmakers seem to have been primarily responsible for developing the stand-alone type that became so popular from the mid-nineteenth century until the late 1930s. A street clock served not just as a “billboard” for the adjacent business, but as a town's indicator of accurate time since most people did not carry watches.
The clocks faded from popularity by the mid-twentieth century when personal timepieces became affordable, and businesses switched to neon signs. In addition, people began to view the clocks as outmoded and ugly. During the 1950s, many city governments removed them, and many were lost or destroyed. Today they enjoy a renaissance as attractive pieces of history.
The Reno clock is sixteen feet tall, about average, although it has a fancier design of four faces instead of two. The faces sit imposingly atop a slim stem rising out of a wider pedestal base, and can be lit at night. The base contains three windows through which people can see the movements working. It was manufactured by the E. Howard Company of Boston, a prominent clock-making company of its time. It can be distinguished as a Howard clock because its head is composed of wood covered with a thin layer of copper, with only the column and base made of cast iron, rather than the entire piece being metal. Few Howard clocks remain because the copper soldering eventually failed and the metal developed pinholes, permitting moisture to enter and rot the wood. Most of the survivors are in the West where the climate is dry.
The clock was originally operated by pulleys attached to weights. But at an unknown time, the Joseph Mayer Company of Seattle replaced the pulleys with an electric motor that wound the clock and acted as a weight of approximately ninety pounds. The hooks are all that remain of the original mechanism.
The Reno clock stood at its 133 North Virginia Street location until purchased for Reno's first indoor mall, Park Lane, after the mall opened in 1967. The new owners painted it green to make the casing look like oxidized copper, and for the next forty years it reigned as the mall's centerpiece.
In 2007, the clock's future became uncertain when new mall owner M&H Realty Partners of San Francisco decided to raze Park Lane. Reno Mayor Robert Cashell convinced M&H to donate the clock to the city so it could be relocated downtown. The clock is valued between $60,000 and $100,000.
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