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The San Jose Clock Tower was originally built in 1892 as part of the first federal building in San Jose. The building served as the San Jose Post Office from 1892 to 1933. The Clock Tower originally had a Seth Thomas clock, but the clock and tower were destroyed in the 1906 Earthquake.
In 1908, renovation of the Clock Tower began with installation of a Nels Johnson Century Tower Clock and bell. While the Tower Clock was installed by Johnson and continues to work today, the restoration of tower was not completed and the bell remains sitting next to the clock where it can't be heard.
In 1972, the Post Office building was added to the California Historical Landmark registry. The plaque on the southern wall states, "Designed by Willoughby Edbrook and constructed of locally quarried sandstone, this Romanesque style structure, built by the United States Government, is the last of its kind on the west coast."
Over the years, attempts have been made to maintain the clock and complete the restoration. The clock was refurbished in 1979 by a group of volunteers led by Dorian Clair. Except for minor repairs it's been running continuously since 1908.
Nels Johnson was over 70 when he built the San Jose clock.He was born in Northrup, Denmark, of destitute parents, according to an early interview, and learned blacksmithing. He made his way to Manistee, Michigan, in 1862 where he set up a machine shop. He built over 50 town clocks in his lifetime, but less than half of them remain today. His town tower clocks have become known as the best ever made.
Now 100 years later, our Clock Tower remains unfinished. A working committee devoted to finishing the restoration has procured several tons of sandstone from the Greystone quarry in south San Jose where the original building stone was cut.
They have also found the architectural drawings from the original
construction of the tower.
The estimated cost for completing the clock tower is around $3.0 million, which seems a remarkably small amount to restore this historic treasure.