Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Clock tower history, photos

Posted By on Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 10:39 AM

The city's landmark clock tower in Riverfront Park has stood near the Spokane River since 1902, built originally as part of the Great Northern Railroad Depot on Havermale Island.

See this week's story on primary caretaker Dave Randolph and additional photos from inside the tower.  

Each of the four clock faces measures nine feet across. The sandstone tower stands 155 feet, 6 inches to the peak, with four interior floors, leading up to the top floor overlooking the park.

Randolph, the city's lead park foreman, says he has counted 113 ladder rungs and stair steps up to the top. Randolph has cared for the clock on and off since joining the park maintenance crew in 1985.

"I get paid for doing something I love," he says. "It's not a job. It's a passion. It's a pretty special place to work."

Inside, cobwebs cover careful brickwork and water-stained storage rooms. Several walls have been spray-painted by vandals and brass vents have been stolen by thieves, but the century-old craftsmanship remains impressive.

A 700-pound, solid brass pendulum keeps the clock mechanism on time. Each week, Randolph must crank a large set off counterweights up about two stories. It takes 99 turns of the clockwork.

The clock chimes every hour. Randolph says the clock is programmed to play a different song every hour. It can be set to play holiday jingles, college fight songs or other melodies.

The tower has never had bells, he says. Even 100 years ago it used an electronic speaker system to replicate the chimes. That system was later replaced with a digital program.

When the railroad depot was demolished in advance of Expo '74, public concern saved the clock tower. Randolph points out the change in color along the outside of the tower where the old depot's roofline can still be seen.

Randolph's greatest frustration now is the constant vandalism that stains the aging tower. Spray paint and permanent marker gets soaked up by the sandstone and becomes nearly impossible to remove.

"The vandalism happens every single day," he says. "It just makes you sick."

Up top, Randolph has encouraged legitimate visitors to sign the wooden housing around the clock mechanism. Dozens of signatures mark the wood from years past. He says U.S. President George H.W. Bush once visited along with Speaker of the House Tom Foley.

In recent years, the city has closed the clock tower to visitors over safety concerns. But Randolph dreams one day the city will invest in a new elevator for the tower to carry up tourists and dignitaries.

"It's a piece of Spokane's history," he says. "Anybody that's lived in Spokane knows about the clock tower."

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Wheatland Bank Free Horse & Carriage Rides @ Riverfront Park

Fridays, 4-8 p.m. Continues through June 21
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Jacob Jones

Staff writer Jacob Jones covers criminal justice, natural resources, military issues and organized labor for the Inlander.