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History, and a 98-year-old St. Petersburg clock

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History, and a 98-year-old St. Petersburg clock, survive a city’s progress

Once a 46-story residential tower rises on Central Avenue, a classic city bank clock that has been around nearly a century will be a public part of it
Workers take down the non-functioning clock on Central Avenue, with plans to restore it to working order and re-install it.
Workers take down the non-functioning clock on Central Avenue, with plans to restore it to working order and re-install it. [ Courtesy of Red Apple Real Estate ]

Buildings once important to a city — a prominent bank, a big brick factory — disappear to make way for shiny new ones. Ornate signs from a once-bustling department store, a dance hall, a soda fountain, all vanish.

But here’s one small victory for history on a downtown St. Petersburg street: A nearly century-old clock that stood for decades on a Central Avenue corner is now poised to stand the test of time. Developers of a 46-story tower called The Residences at 400 Central Avenue plan to reinstall the classic clock in a public pedestrian area of the site once the tower is completed.

“Some people might say it’s just a clock,” said Rui Farias, executive director of the St. Petersburg Museum of History. “But it’s a big piece of our history.”

“It’s an awesome clock,” said David H. Boyd of Boyd Clocks, the 78-year-old Tampa company doing the restoration.

In the 1920s in a tradition borrowed from Europe, “mostly bank buildings would have these wonderful clocks outside, attached to the building,” Farias said.

Think Hallmark movies set in small towns: “In most towns, there was a town clock, usually in the center of town,” he said.

This particular version, a classic McClintock clock, was installed in 1924 by a Minneapolis company in the four-story Home Security Building at Central Avenue and Fifth Street — a structure that would grow by four more stories and accommodate several banks over the years.

Back then, the clock chimed every 15 minutes. “The bank and the city kept getting complaints from the Poinsettia Hotel next door,” Farias said. “They complained to everybody about it.”

The clock stood by as every bank in St. Petersburg closed in the Great Depression and was there when banks came back. It was removed before the building — in later years, unimaginatively named the Florida Office Building — was demolished in 1977. Restored, the clock found a home again a few years later on Central Avenue on a sturdy pedestal within a few feet of its original location.

The classic McClintock pedestal clock stood for years on  Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg.
The classic McClintock pedestal clock stood for years on Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg. [ Google Earth ]

Now the developer of the property is going to have the non-functioning clock brought back to life and reinstalled.

“We are making sure to bring in experts with vast experience so this clock can stand again in a special place beside the future tower,” John Catsimatidis Sr., founder of Red Apple Real Estate and principal of the development company, said in a news release.

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The job is in the hands of Tampa’s Boyd Clocks, which was established in 1944 and has its own history.

Founder David N. Boyd is reputed to have fixed his first clock at age 5 and, by the time he was 14, was making money at it, according to his son, David H. Boyd. The elder Boyd wanted to be an engineer for Ford, but in college he was struck by polio. In a world that was not wheelchair-friendly, his son said, he made clocks his life’s work.

Hortense, the clock at Tampa's Old City Hall. [Times]
Hortense, the clock at Tampa's Old City Hall. [Times]

The busy longtime company has worked on Hortense, the chiming clock atop Tampa’s historic City Hall. It’s currently working on an old clock tower off Interstate 275 so rusty from not being used for 70 years “you can’t even tell there were clock dials,” said Boyd. LED lights are in that clock’s future.

The St. Petersburg clock weighs close to 2,000 pounds, including the pole, and has “an old-school system — just a motor with some gears, the kind where you have to go in and put in oil every few years,” Boyd said. “The outdoor elements are not friendly to clocks.”

The plan is to put in GPS electronically controlled motorized works. “It’s kind of like getting a Model-T and putting a Porsche drivetrain in it,” Boyd said. The exact cost of the work is still to be determined.

The clock is expected to be placed at the corner of Central Avenue and Fourth Street near an entrance to the new residential project, which will encompass a full city block and include 301 condos, office space and restaurants. Initial construction has begun, and it’s expected to be largely completed in the spring of 2025, when the clock is scheduled to reappear.

“I’m happy that they saved the clock,” said Farias. “If they can preserve and incorporate it into this (new development), that’s the best of both worlds.”

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