Most people walk the city streets engrossed in text messaging or Googling on a BlackBerry—and checking the time while they’re at it. No reason to use—or even notice—the dozens of public clocks standing like old butlers ready to serve. Now “they’re mostly architectural,” says John Gomez, founder and president of the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy. “They served a purpose a century ago.” JCM went on a clock tour to check the time. This is just sampling. Missed your favorite clock? Let us know.
3:35 p.m. The clock at Newark Avenue and Erie Street is accurate: 3:35. John Beekman, assistant manager at the New Jersey Room in the Jersey City Free Public Library, estimates that this freestanding green clock—and the matching one at Newark and Grove—date to 1900. (Though the clockworks may be updated!)
3:58 p.m. A clock in the tower of the Hudson County Boys and Girls Club is “on time to the minute,” says Executive Director Gary Greenberg. To reset the time, Greenberg switches on an apparatus on the wall of the clock’s motor room. “It’s not like an old Buster Keaton movie where he’s hanging on the hand of the clock,” Greenberg says. “I knew that was what you were thinking.” The club was converted from an old coalbunker in 1975, according to Herbert Oppenheimer, one of the architects of the building. The clock “was just a crazy idea,” he says “We wanted some architectural element to stop people walking in the street. We wanted it so that the kids could understand time and be responsive to time.”
4:22 p.m. The clock at Newark and Grove, matching the one at Newark and Erie, is accurate: 4:22.
5:30 p.m. The Central Rail Road of New Jersey Terminal at Liberty State Park was built in 1889 and is clearly visible from the ferries headed to New York. Patty Chrisman of the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office says all big railroad stations had large clock towers so that passengers would know if they were going to leave on time. Adds Beekman: “I believe that large U.S. city clocks have more to do with early industrialization, when more accurate time keeping became important. Workers need to know what time to get to the factory, and historically, personal timepieces were too expensive for the working class.” Those who could afford watches used the city’s clock towers to set them, making them a standard part of the tallest buildings in town. “New cities in America, seeking to recreate European cities, would likely consider a prominent clock both necessary and a status symbol,” Beekman says. This one was just 10 minutes off—the actual time was 5:50.
5:55 p.m. The small round clock (not pictured) on the Bank of America building on Newark and Jersey avenues was two hours and 20 minutes off, clocking in at 8:15.
6:50 p.m. The worst offender is the Wachovia Bank clock (not pictured) on Bergen Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard in Journal Square, clocking in at 11:25, four hours and 35 minutes off the mark.
7:00 p.m. There are two clocks to the left and right of the Wachovia Bank on the same block. To its right, just a few steps away on the corner of Bergen and Sip avenues, Capital One features an accurate modern clock and thermometer encased in brass. The company’s name and logo are written just above the clock, as part of the design.
To Wachovia’s left, the clock on the Landmark Loews Jersey Theatre, circa 1929, is fixed high above the street. This clock has a real problem—no hands! But Colin Egan, a trustee of the theatre, says there’s a good excuse: they’re being replaced. “You know the phrase they don’t make things like they used to?” says Egan, “That goes for wood too.” The old wooden hands warped over time and caused the clock to malfunction. New aluminum hands are set to arrive this fall, just in time for the theatre’s 80th anniversary. (By the time we went to press, the hands had been replaced)
8:10 p.m. The Colgate clock is one of the most recognizable anywhere, second perhaps to Big Ben. The current clock, built in 1924, is a replacement for the original clock from 1906, built by the Seth Thomas Company and designed by Colgate engineer Warren Day after Colgate's Octagon Soap. It’s located just south of the Goldman Sachs Tower near Exchange Place on a lot that is leased to Colgate-Palmolive by the State of New Jersey. The huge hands of this relic of the city’s industrial past showed 5:10. “It’s on a neglected piece of land,” says Gomez. “It’s a major landmark and it’s crumbling.” Adds Beekman: It “was emblematic of Jersey City because it was visible from New York City and was a stable element during the ups and downs of Jersey City’s fortunes during the midcentury.” A guy was there with a video camera who wanted to make sure this historic landmark was in the background of his music video. JCM