Recently a fellow blogger, Suzassippi, has featured a series of posts on the clocks of London. Big Ben isn’t the only clock in that City and I’ve enjoyed reading her posts. In commenting on one I mentioned the Hertzberg Clock in San Antonio, Texas. So, Suzassippi, this one is for you!
Since its original installation in 1878 the phrase, “meet me at the Hertzberg Clock” has been a standard for many San Antonio residents. Likewise, many wrist watches have been set to its time. While most people walk right by without a glance it seems that every one in this town who is familiar with the downtown area knows right where it is – it is a landmark!
The 17-foot clock made of cast iron and brass was built by the E. Howard Company of Boston and installed in front of Eli Hertzberg’s Jewelry Co. then located on Commerce Street. Many businesses and public buildings featured a clock on their façade or a street clock like the Hertzberg Clock in front of their business. Remember, this was long before watches and cell phones that always have the correct time!
In 1910 an ambitious project to widen Commerce Street was undertaken and Mr. Hertzberg decided to move his store and his clock one block north to Houston Street. The store has been gone many years, but the clock has remained at the corner of Houston and North Saint Mary’s Street although not without a close call with another relocation. In the 1960’s the Zale’s Corp. purchased the store and several years later proposed buying the clock and moving it to the north side of San Antonio. However, it was still owned by two Hertzberg family descendants who thoughtfully donated the clock to the Conservation Society of San Antonio in August 1982.
Two months later it was disassembled, but not for moving. It was carefully removed and restored while the RepublicBank Plaza (now the IBC Center) was constructed. Beautifully restored by London Watch and Clock Co. and Kurt Voss Metals Inc. of San Antonio, the clock was rededicated in 1985. It would be removed again a few years later while upgrades were done to Houston Street and sidewalks were widened. Interestingly, I remember quite an outcry when it was thought that the clock had quietly disappeared without a trace!
In 2008 the Conservation Society began receiving calls about the clock having a malfunction (yes, people do look at it). When the clock was opened, it was determined that a complete restoration was in order. Ed Gaida, a retired clock, organ, and complex mechanical devices repairman led the restoration team. He estimated several years later that the clock had another 50 years before needing any major repairs as clocks from that era were built as solid as a battleship!
In an interview with the Express-News (2/17/2015) Gaida explained the clock’s mechanism:
A mechanical device, the Hertzberg clock runs purely on kinetic energy like the rocking pendulum and dangling weight system of a grandfather clock.
“It’s precisely the same mechanism, only it’s heavy duty,” Gaida said. “The wheels are bigger. The gears are stronger. The weights are heavier. Because, remember, it has to drive those hands and those hands are exposed to the elements. In a strong wind, it has to be powerful enough to drive those hands.”
In 2019 the clock was sanded down, primed, and painted with a fresh coat of paint, its first since the 2008 restoration. While it only needs winding once a week, currently the time keeper winds it twice a week. I would love to be there when he opens it up and turns the mechanism!
Today the clock looks fresh and almost new in spite of its age thanks to the loving care it has received.
Meet me at the clock!