Time for preservation
An icon that followed Reno’s transition from small town to small city needs help.
It’s interesting to think how important a clock could be in a town that never really sleeps. Who needs to look at the time when the bars never close? Once the sun comes up, you’ll know—it’s time to go home.
But how can one ignore a clock like the Mayer clock that once stood at the site of a now dismantled Park Lane Mall? It’s large and iconic, made of cast iron, adorned with ornate and intricate detail and set upon a stout iron column. To a child it was massive, and to many locals it was, and still is, priceless. For almost a century it has avoided sharing the fate of so many Reno landmarks, such as the Mapes Hotel and the Reno City Hall, demolished in 1966 (which also had a clock, in its tower).
The Mayer clock has made a long journey to its current location, a secured storage unit in Reno.
The clock was born from the working hands of Joseph Mayer, a clockmaker in Seattle. Mayer’s life was riddled with success as he made a name for himself as an engineer and entrepreneur in the business of clock making. He went into business with his brother Marcus Mayer, and together they built clocks that would call storefronts and street corners throughout Seattle home. These clocks are now considered historic landmarks.
Of the many clocks built by the brothers, one found its way to Reno in the 1920s. It was installed in front of Ginsburg Jewelers at 133 N. Virginia St. The clock can be seen there in historic photos of Virginia Street. It was one of two tall pedestal clocks that faced each other across Virginia Street at mid-block between First and Second streets, and it was the most elaborate. It had a square “globe” with four faces, compared to its rival’s two faces. (The fate of the second clock is unknown.)
In June of 1937, the Ginsburg clock outlived its maker when Joseph Mayer committed suicide in his company building. The clock continued to tick in front of Ginsberg Jewelers until developer Sonner Greenspan obtained it during the mid-1960s to be placed in a new shopping center called Park Lane Mall.
Some sources say that Sam Ginsberg sold the clock to Greenspan, while others say it was donated. Whichever it was, it was there at Park Lane Mall that the clock that had once been an icon of the city center filled a similar function for the era of sprawl. Many shoppers remember using the clock as a place to meet friends, but not—after the clock stopped ticking—a place to get the time. It was incorporated into the logo of Park Lane, which in its early years was an open air mall.
In 2006, horologist Brian Bullard repaired the Mayer clock.
“It’s a big clock, and it wasn’t easy to get to,” he said. “The transmission in the top was very poorly maintained. The main shaft drilled itself into the transmission. The gears then shifted and stopped the clock.”
Bullard’s knowledge of the clock is nothing short of encyclopedic. He knew how it worked, where it was made, and who its maker was—or rather, makers.
“The clock was built by Joseph Mayer, but the mechanics that ran the clock was Howard,” he said.
Bullard was referring to E. Howard Company, a Boston clock company that also made tower clocks. Howard made the clock’s heart, and Mayer made the clock’s body.
The clock is broken down into three parts: the cast iron pedestal, which contains the clock’s weight-driven mechanism; the supporting Corinthian column, reminiscent of those in Roman architecture; and the four faced globe, home to the clock’s transmission and clock faces, an interior array of gears and rods that crank away infinite cycles of rotating arms.
Bullard said that the problem of the shaft boring itself into the transmission probably took decades—thousands upon thousands of rotations, an impressive attestation to the clock’s age and durability.
Bullard was partly responsible for bringing new light to the clock while repairing the transmission problem. After opening the clock’s globe, Bullard noticed a feature of the clock that had been forgotten. The clock’s globe illuminates with the help of some fluorescent tubes. After Bullard made his repairs, he added some new fluorescent lights, and the new and improved clock illuminated its rotating arms for shoppers in Park Lane Mall. For a while, all seemed well with the state of time.
Unfortunately the fate of Park Lane Mall changed, and with it, so did that of the Mayer Clock. Park Lane Mall closed in 2007, surrendering its ground space to new retail and residential plans. Mall owners M&H Realty Partners, based in San Francisco, donated the clock to the city of Reno after their plan to demolish the site was announced.
Today the clock is in storage. It sits in a secured storage unit, dismantled and encased in seven boxes until the decision for its final resting place is determined. But who makes that decision?
The decision for the placement of the Mayer clock is a mixed effort between the City of Reno Public Works, Downtown Development Program and others in the community interested in historical preservation.
“As with any of the historical monuments, I feel that it is very important to keep it in Reno. It’s a matter of when and where,” said Kevin Knutson, director of community relations.
“This city has a great restoration program with a lot of good people working on it, so I feel confident that it will get where it needs to be,” he added.
It appears that everyone involved feels the clock is an important piece of Reno history.
“It used to be on Virginia Street, and people passed by it everyday. It’s a lovely piece of history. I’d like to see it prominently displayed,” said Mella Harmon, curator of history at the Nevada Historical Society.
Before the clock can be displayed, it must first undergo a restoration process. From experience, Bullard understands that restoration on the clock will be expensive, but like others who value Reno history, it’s well worth it.
“The clock is part of Reno. It would be a real loss. They definitely should keep it in Reno,” said Bullard.
According to a quote from a Lockport, N.Y., company, Essence of Time, the cost of restoration would straddle $51,000. That breaks down to $42,000 to get the clock back to its working condition and $10,000 for miscellaneous work. (By comparison, Essence of Time is doing a restoration to the tower clock in the county courthouse in Baker, Ore., for $68,150 to disassemble the clock, transport it to Lockport, refurbish it, and return it to Baker City. A high school class has raised most of the money.)
“The entire clock would need to be disassembled, evaluated and cleaned,” explained city spokesperon Michele Anderson. Once this is finished, says Anderson, “it could really go anywhere.”
There is no set date for the clock’s reintroduction to the public. For now it stays in its storage unit, waiting to go under the wrench and to resolution. On the bright side, Mayor Bob Cashell says one thing is certain: “The clock is not leaving Reno.”