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Why Finish the Restoration?
The San Jose Post
Office and Clock Tower, 1892 to
1906The City of San Jose has a remarkable history. As the first civil settlement in California San Jose has been witness to many grand events. But as the state grew and flourished San Jose has slipped in prestige and grandeur when compared to other cities to the north and south.
Nonetheless San Jose flourished and in its own inimitable manner over time shook off the dust and blossoms of its title as Valley of the Hearts Delight to become what we know today as Silicon Valley.
Sadly we have few monuments or touchstones to our past. Most have given way to the necessity of progress and in some cases to the negligence of time, geography and seismic reality. Fortunately, the San Jose Clock Tower was not one of them. While the 1906 earthquake destroyed the clock and tower, having a time standard in the city was important enough to install a new clock and partially restore the tower.
The new clock is not an ordinary clock, it is a Nels Johnson Century Tower Clock. One of the finest time pieces available at the time and perhaps the first high-tech instrument built in San Jose. While it still requires hand winding, it is accurate to a few seconds over a month.
Sometime in 1908 reconstruction of the clock tower began in order to accommodate the Johnson clock. A flattened roof was built to keep out the elements and the clock was installed by Nels Johnson himself. There can be no doubt that the tower was meant to be completed back to its original state.
We know this because at the time Johnson installed his wonderful clock he also put in next to it a 1,700 pound McNeely Bell. Tower bells are meant to be placed up higher in a clock tower in the belfry. So when struck, the bell rings out into the city to mark the time. Placed where it is the bell cannot be heard outside the building.
In its incomplete form, the San Jose Post office building was declared a State Historic Landmark in 1972. Yet the plaque on the wall of the old post office makes no mention that the tower is unfinished or that it contains a historic tower clock inside. The building is now part of the San Jose Museum of Art at 110 South Market Street.
One hundred years after the restoration started, the tower remains unfinished and the wonderful clock hidden inside is all but forgotten.
Why should we complete the restoration of the clock tower?
So we can show off our historic landmarks and let the history live beyond a plaque on a wall.
So we have an hourly reminder of one of the first high-tech instruments built in the city.
So the intricate works of Nels Johnson's Tower Clock are no longer hidden and forgotten.
So we can say that we finally completed what the citizens of San Jose started 100 years ago.