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Clock Takes A Beating

SANTA FE, N.M. — As the “tick, tock” of the Spitz Clock becomes more labored, a movement is afoot to put the big timepiece – whose history on the Santa Fe Plaza goes back more than a century – somewhere indoors.

“Can you imagine what it’s like to have an object like that in the New Mexico climate every day for 100 years?” said Michael Cochran, a Santa Fe artist who winds the clock every few days. “It takes a beating.”

The Spitz Clock looks like a large, gold pocket watch, elevated about 12 feet off the ground on a green metal stem whose base holds the gears. Since 1974, it has been at the corner of Lincoln and Palace avenues, and a functioning Spitz Clock has been on a sidewalk by the Plaza since 1916.

But it can’t stay outside much longer. The gold leaf around the face is cracking, and seeping water has caused the clock to deteriorate. Also, it becomes far less reliable in the winter.

“It doesn’t like the cold anymore,” said Cochran. “The oils and greases that keep the gears going, when it gets really cold, those stop. In the summertime, it ticks right along, no problem.”

The clock was donated to the city by Bernard Spitz in 1974, and Santa Fe Parks Director Fabian Chavez said a small ad-hoc committee is looking into options, including a full renovation of the clock, or finding it a spot inside and putting a replacement piece in the same location.

“The clock is in such a condition now that it really needs to be moved to a place where a full restoration can be done out of the weather and the elements,” Chavez said.

A weather-proofing restoration of the Spitz Clock would run about $5,000, according to Mary Chavez, senior vice president of First National Bank (across Palace Avenue from the clock) and a member of the committee.

Chavez said she didn’t know what a replacement would cost. The committee had hoped the clock could be donated to the New Mexico History Museum (across Lincoln Avenue from the clock), but a museum spokesperson said it’s too tall to fit into an exhibit, and doesn’t fit in “architecturally” in the lobby.

First National Bank and other downtown merchants have already begun pooling funds for the Spitz Clock, Mary Chavez said, though she would not disclose how much.

The original Spitz Clock cost $315 in 1881, Cochran said, when it was purchased to advertise in front of the Spitz Jewelry Store on the south end of the Plaza.

That clock didn’t work, but it was replaced by a running clock around the turn of the century. When a truck ran into the functioning Spitz Clock in 1915, it was replaced with the current clock, which was moved from the Plaza’s south end in 1967, when a portal was installed there.

“It’s a landmark,” said Mary Chavez. “The tourists always say, ‘Meet us at the clock.’ ”

The Spitz Clock was built by the clock makers E. Howard and Company. Howard clocks were ubiquitous around the country on city squares, said Cochran, but Santa Fe’s is believed to be the last one with its original gears still intact. Others around the country have had their inner works, which have to be wound, replaced with electronics.

Cochran said he’s conflicted about moving the clock indoors.

“If it moves inside, it’ll be an item of historical interest,” he said, “but right now, it’s a part of the community.”