Street Clock Restoration – Self Winding Clock Company

In 2021, Electric Time Company was honored to be selected by the Jamaica Center Improvement Association to restore the iconic cast iron street clock located on Jamaica Avenue in Queens, NYC (see 2018 Photo). The clock had fallen into disrepair. It was most likely modified in the 1930’s with a neon advertising clock. On our initial inspection, we found one access door was held to the post with shrink wrap. The clock had been relocated once if not multiple times.

Even before the clock arrived at our factory we first wanted to determine who originally manufactured this street clock. Initially we thought this clock was made by the Helca Iron Works, a firm which manufactured exterior and interior ornamental cast iron work in the last 1800’s and early 1900’s on such projects as Grand Central Terminal, the Marquee at Carnegie Music Hall, and the original kiosks of the IRT subway system (see Helca Iron Works Ad).

Street Clock Before Restoration
2018 Photo – Before Restoration – Photograph by CaptJayRuffins distributed under a CC-BY-SA 4.0
Hecla Iron Works Ad
Hecla Iron Works Ad

We spent considerable time searching our extensive collection of historic catalogs, along with on-line resources, trying to find evidence of the manufacturer of this clock. We did find a photo of the modified clock from the 1940’s, but nothing earlier. Eventually we noticed that the saddle of the clock (the part that connects the post to the clock head) seemed somewhat unique (see Figure 3). Initially we thought a weldment had been added when the clock may have been “reimagined” in the 1930’s, but on closer inspection we determined it was actually a casting, and closely resembled the saddles shown in the Self Winding Street Clock Catalog. A local NYC historian also noticed the post had some details common to the ones shown in the same catalog, so it is pretty clear that the clock was more than likely made by Self Winding.

Street Clock Saddle and Post
Street Clock Saddle and Post
Self Winding Clock Factory
Self Winding Factory (Municipal Archives, CIty of New York)

Self Winding Clock Company was a major manufacturer of electromechanical clocks based out of New York City. Some prominent examples of their works are/were the MET life Building and the Grand Central Station interior and exterior clocks, both in NYC, and the London Underground in the UK. In addition, they sold a service in conjunction with Western Union that transmitted time signals over the Western Union telegraph lines, sort of an early internet NTP (network time protocol). One of Electric Time Company’s Presidents had been a salesman for Self Winding in NYC in the 1930’s.

At this time, we feel that this example may be the last Self Winding street clock in existence in the world. A page from a 1908 Self Winding Clock Company catalog featuring two of their street clock models is shown below.

Self Winding 1908 Catalog (Reprint) featuring street clock models
Self Winding 1908 Catalog (Reprint)
featuring street clock models.

In June of 2021 our local NYC technician removed the clock and delivered it to our factory in Medfield, Massachusetts. The post, other than one door, and the stamped metal header ornament were in good condition. We believe the head was modified in the 1930’s with a neon advertising clock (neon not being in general use until the 1930’s), and an electric movement of unknown manufacture. The neon clock was mounted to panels with the addition of the name of a local shoe company. We have restored a multitude of clocks which had received this modification, principally I believe as the street clocks started getting knocked over from the larger trucks that began to appear on the streets in the 1930’s. The clock case consisted of some dissimilar metals, primarily copper and steel, which had rotted away in places and were unusable. The post and the saddle were fabricated in cast iron

Stamped head ornament
Street Clock with Advertising and Neon
Neon advertising clock
found on the street clock prior to restoration
Post Clock Damaged Door
Examples of the
condition of the door panels of the
case prior to restoration

Photos below show a similar clock (an E. Howard) we have restored, identified as the Bicknell Brother Clock located in Lawrence, MA. The “before” picture shows the clock with its neon replacement top, and the “after” picture the restored clock

Bicknell Bros. Clock before Restoration
Restoration of 1885 Bicknell Bros. Street Clock with custom Bronze figure – Lawrence, MA

The restoration of our subject clock (see photos below) occurred during the summer and fall, 2021. It consisted of sandblasting the post and saddle to bare metal, and using the existing door frame as a pattern to replace the damaged door panel. We replaced the clock head in aluminum forming a case that closely matched the original design and provided new bezels to hold the clear tempered glass crystals. We brought the clock head back to what we believe was the original design. The clock was finished with primers specific for aluminum and iron, coated with a two-part polyurethane paint and clear coated. The stamped metal ornament was 23kt gold leafed. We provided a translucent glass dial with dial markings embedded in the glass and clock hands that closely match the design as shown in our Self-Winding catalog.

We provided (2) separate minute impulse street clock movements manufactured by our firm, with a GPS receiver and an automatic clock controller in the base to automatically reset the clock after a power outage and for the Daylight Saving Time changes. The backlighting was provided with 3000K “warm white” lamps – to match the incandescent lamps that would have been used originally.

The clock was recently installed in December of this year and dedicated on December 11, 2021. As typically happens on these restoration projects, an earlier photograph was just found of the original clock. Our detective work was right on target.

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