There’s not much left of the old downtown in Kansas City, Kan., after decades of suburban flight and urban renewal.
But an elegant and towering street clock has managed to survive nearly 100 years to remain a landmark and a reminder of times past.
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Now, it is being restored and will become a useful and decorative centerpiece of a new bus transit plaza being built at Seventh Street and Minnesota Avenue.
“We knew that we wanted some kind of focal point for the new transit center downtown,” said Keith Sanders, project manager for the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. “We also knew that we were going to have to temporarily remove the clock to put in new sidewalks.
“It was one of those ‘Eureka!’ moments,” continued Sanders. “Of course, the clock would be perfect there.”
The 18-foot-tall clock was installed in 1915 in front of the Winkler jewelry and watch repair store on Minnesota Avenue. It was built by the Seth Thomas Clock Co. of Connecticut, and had four glass faces. It became a familiar meeting place for generations of people who patronized downtown.
In 1972, the Winkler family sold the clock to the city for $1 with the condition that it remain downtown. The jewelry store left downtown in 1990.
The MetroCenter transit plaza is part of a $13 million “Connex” project linking the bus hub at 10th and Main streets in Kansas City, Mo., with Village West, via Minnesota and State avenues. Seven bus routes will converge at the MetroCenter at the southeast corner of Seventh and Minnesota, carrying more than half the Kansas City, Kan., bus ridership.
The project, including the clock restoration, is being funded with $10.5 million in grants from the federal government, as well as some money from the economic stimulus package and from the Unified Government of Kansas City, Kan., and Wyandotte County.
The MetroCenter transit plaza also will include a new bus shelter and landscaping as well as real-time bus information.
The project is expected to be completed next summer.
The clock cost $459 when new, according to the Seth Thomas company books preserved by the National Association of Watch and Clock Makers. The restoration is expected to cost $60,000 to $70,000, said Sanders. The interior mechanism is being restored by Essence of Time, a clock repair company in Lockport, N.Y.
“We’ll restore this clock and all the dials and gears back to just the way it was when it left the factory 100 years ago,” said Chuck Roeser, owner of Essence of Time.
Meanwhile, the cast-iron exterior is being restored by Dimensional Innovations of Overland Park. The company will sand-blast and strip the many coats of paint and repair cracks.
“For being 100 years old, it’s in great shape,” said Blair Dibben, project engineer for Dimensional Innovations.
The clock originally was lit from inside with incandescent bulbs, but they will be replaced with LEDs.
“When we get a project like this, that is important to the Kansas City community, it’s always fun,” said Justin Wood, a vice president of Dimensional Innovations. “There’s a great story behind it, too.”
The clock at one point had been converted to electricity, but Roeser said he would restore it back to a pendulum-action, to be wound every eight days.
Over the years the clock lost many parts, including weights and pulleys. Roeser will have to fabricate replacements parts to match the original Seth Thomas specs.
“It’s fun because there are so few of these clocks,” Roeser said. “They only made 71 to begin with. We think there are only 20-30 of these left.”
When the clock was disassembled in August, a crack was discovered in the base, and there was a lot a lot of rust inside and around the bolts anchoring it to the sidewalk. Without any attention, the roughly 2,500-pound clock eventually could have fallen over.
“I think we got to it just in time,” said Sanders.
Nancy Winkler is a descendant of Frank Winkler, who originally purchased the clock. She now owns Winkler’s Diamonds at 82nd Street and State Avenue. She was immediately enthusiastic when approached about the idea of incorporating the clock into the transit station.
“The people that live here in our county and city have felt so much ownership of it because it has been here for almost 100 years,” she said. “I think it’s amazing that the city feels it’s important to restore such a historical landmark.”
Jerry Thornsberry, a member of the local chapter of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, said cities over the years tended to take down street clocks because they were a hazard for traffic.
“To me, it’s a symbol of downtown Kansas City, Kan.,” said Thornsberry. “It’s a valuable historical artifact and it makes a great centerpiece for the transit plaza.”