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Healing time's wound

A Santa Ana history buff and clock connoisseur has spurred officials to fix the Spurgeon clock, an icon that's depicted on the city's seal.

February 14, 2008|Jennifer Delson | Times Staff Writer

The 95-year-old Spurgeon clock tower, built by Santa Ana's founder and depicted on the city's seal, is being brought back to life.

The clock began malfunctioning four years ago; four months ago, it stopped. In stepped Santa Ana resident, history buff and clock connoisseur Tim Rush. He called City Hall.

He called fellow members of the Santa Ana Historical Society. He reached out to anyone he thought might help restore the clock.

"It is an icon in the city," Rush said. "There's nothing more photographed or drawn in this city than the Spurgeon clock tower. When you think of downtown Santa Ana, you think of this clock tower."

His passion led the city's Redevelopment Agency to allocate $5,000 to repair the clock.

"We knew we had to do something," said Steve Harding, the deputy city manager. "That is a treasure for the city."

As clock doctor Larry Squires of Garden Grove began installing a new motor and cleaning shafts and gears this week, Rush was ecstatic.

"This was a long time coming," Rush said. "I had just about given up this time."

He had been at odds with the owners of the building at 206 W. 4th St.

Rush said they had refused to allow historical society members access to the building to maintain the clock. A man who checked the progress of the work this week, and who said he was one of the owners, said clock maintenance "fell through the cracks." He would not identify himself.

Harding said the city obtained access to the building about three years ago, after the owners were cited for allowing people to live in a building zoned for commercial use.

City code enforcement officials discovered dozens of people, mostly artists, living in the commercial building. The illegal dwellers were eventually cleared out. The building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is being renovated for office space.

Legend holds that W.H. Spurgeon, the president of the first Orange County Board of Supervisors, built the clock tower in 1913 facing the old Orange County Courthouse, where the panel met, to thumb his nose at fellow supervisors, who would not pay $6,000 for a clock on the courthouse.

Spurgeon chose an electrical movement, which was cutting-edge technology. The movement required a constant supply of electricity, which was not available. So he hooked up the clock to 12-volt batteries in his real estate development office in the building.

The clock stopped about 1976. Twenty years later, the historical society raised about $90,000 to refurbish its movement and install a new motor. An electronic carillon to play music was installed.

But in 1999, the clock stopped because, according to Rush, the electricity was cut off when the owners failed to pay the bill. A few weeks later, the electricity went on and so did the clock.

Most recently, the clock worked sporadically because the movement needed to be cleaned, Rush said. Once the clock is working, he added, he will raise money to paint the clock tower.

He wants to fix the carillon so it will play music again. The chimes still ring every 15 minutes.

As Squires continued fixing the clock Wednesday, Michael Macres, whose father and grandfather opened the nearby Macres Florist in 1935, was jubilant.

"For those who us who have been in this city all their lives," said Macres, "this really means something."

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jennifer.delson@latimes.com

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