No time to spare as historic clock is reinstalled, celebrated in downtown Sacramento

05/03/2012 12:00 AM

05/03/2012 10:31 AM

The historic Fred Mayes clock was reinstalled downtown Wednesday, in the nick of time.

Starting at 6 a.m., workers managed to get the complicated 15-foot structure in place, installed the 10-inch "diamond" on top, hooked up a satellite-based timing mechanism and installed delicate neon tubes – all with about 20 minutes to spare before an 11:30 a.m. city ceremony to celebrate the clock.

Restoration and reinstallation of the clock – which dates at least to 1924 – has been a three-year project for Greig Best, who in the interim went from graduate student to executive director of the Sacramento History Foundation.

The project faced multiple delays.

Most recently, the clock had been slated for installation by the end of March. Even Wednesday, it was delayed by a mounting bolt that had to be sawed off so the base would fit flush on the ground.

Best said it was important to get the long-idle clock hands moving again.

He quoted preservationist Tom Bernardin as saying, "non-working clocks betray the public trust and send out a message that nobody's home."

The Mayes Jewelry shop is no longer at the clock's 10th and J location. The store closed more than a decade ago, and that address is now a skateboard clothing shop.

The clock was donated to the city by Mayes in 1993.

The city, prodded by Best, oversaw restoration, some of which was performed by metalwork and lighting experts.

Before Fred Mayes, the clock and shop belonged to Tom Monk, a jeweler and one-time mayor of Sacramento.

Sandy Cooper, Mayes' daughter, recalled having to go out periodically to wind the old clock's mechanical works, an unpopular job among the shop's workers.

Did she hate it?

"I did," she said, laughing.

But she, her sister and mother were pleased to see it restored and running with a no-wind mechanism.

An art deco steel base now encloses the original iron column. It may be less aesthetically pleasing than the original, but it is true to the clock's appearance in the 1940s and will be more vandal-resistant.

"Vandalism was the No. 1 problem" mentioned in old news stories about the clock, Best said.

Metal thieves should be thwarted by the new quarter-inch steel that now protects the wiring, mechanism and old bronze plaques on the original base.

"They wouldn't last a minute," Best said of the plaques.

The key element of the installation, however, is the ring-motif clock, high above the sidewalk, which should now glow with neon and keep the correct time for decades to come.

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