A 1934 earthquake stopped the hands of time inside the 94-year-old City-County Building's clock tower when a 1,200 pound weight, which originally drove the time piece, crashed through the roof onto the fourth floor.
Now, after a half century of keeping time high above Washington Square with electricity, Salt Lake officials hope to fit the tower with another mechanical device to turn the clock's gears and ring its four gargantuan bells.The $30,000 project, which could in part be funded by contributions, won't necessarily keep better time. But Mayor Palmer De-Paulis said it will be a nice touch to the city's "living museum," undergoing a $30 million renovation.
"My thinking is that if people find the building so fascinating, particularly the clock tower, if that makes them stay just one more day (in the city), it's another part of the plan to keep us viable," he said.
Clock specialist Lloyd Larish, from Minnesota, spent part of a week sweeping dust from clock machinery in the tower to determine how the original mechanical contraption that ran the clock worked before its 1934 demise.
Two giant weights hung from the tower's ceilings when it was built in 1894. Weekly, the weight was lifted to the tower's ceiling and descended slowly, providing the power to turn the clock's cast iron gears and wooden hands.
But the quake shook one weight loose - at 11:23 a.m., according to Deseret News stories the day of the temblor - sending it crashing like a small meteorite into a fourth floor hallway.
The loss of the weight rendered the drive unit for the Boston-manufactured clock inoperable. In the coming decades, a second and third generation of clocks ticked in the City-County Building tower, Larish said.
In the 1930s a master clock built by International Time Recorder electronically drove the clock's dials, In 1957 or 1958, a Standard Time Co. control clock kept the time and controlled the bells' ringing, he said.
The clock has run and its bells, weighing a total of 7,500 pounds tolled intermittently since then, said project coordinator Phil Erickson. It stands temporarily idle now because workers have cut off electricity to the clock.
In up to a year, however, the clock once again could work under mechanical power. Larish says he "has a line" on a century-old power drive that could be retrofitted into the tower.
"I repair clocks all over the U.S., and I have the advantage of having lots of connection, which helps tremendously," the Midwesterner said.
The original bells, the largest of which is 57 inches in diameter, still hang on the original wooden beams and would toll every quarter hour and play a four-note arpeggio lasting 18 seconds every hour, Larish said.
Locating the drive train, cleaning it and installing it in the tower could take up to a year, Erickson said. Once in place, DePaulis envisions showing off the clock works on daily tours.
Students and architects would have a keen interest in the facility, Erickson said.
Paying for the project could dip partly into the renovation's dwindling contingency fund. The City-County Building is funded by a $30 million bond passed by voters in 1986.
The contingency, now at $800,000, could drop further if the city decides to increase the number of computer work stations in the building. Project Manager Larry Migliaccio told the mayor last week he wants to finish the renovation with $500,000 remaining in the contingency fund.
Erickson said he anticipates moving city offices temporarily located at 324 S. State St. into the newly renovated City-County Building in May.