What's new is old: Refurbished Mpls. clock tower goes back to its roots

Instead of looking like 2016, the City Hall clocks look more like a century ago.
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After months of restoration work, the clock tower at City Hall in Minneapolis is back in business.

But the revived clocks that Minneapolis and Hennepin County celebrated at a Monday evening ceremony don't look like the ones you remember seeing last year. Instead, they're more like the look of a century ago.

What's the difference?

When builders completed City Hall in 1906 the four clocks on the tower – one facing each direction – had glass faces and were lit up from behind so folks could see the clocks at night.

By 1949 it was time to fix some cracks in the glass and the Municipal Building Commission (which takes care of the place) made a change. They put up new clock faces made of white ceramic. They put red neon lights on the hands for night viewing.

Unless you're a real old-timer, this is the only clock you remember on Minneapolis City Hall (until now). You can refresh your memory with photos here and here.

The clock lasted more than 60 years before it needed another fix-up. And when the work started in September, crews went back to the old look. Each clock is now backlit with LED lights, and no more red neon hands.

By the way, the city says the pieces of the old ceramic clock faces were given to more than 200 artists. The new ones are glass, like the originals.

Cool clock facts

If you've got four clocks and a set of bells in your tower, that's pretty much the whole works. And according to the Municipal Building Commission, no clock tower in the world that has all that stuff is as big as the one in Minneapolis. They say the clock faces are 23 feet 6 inches in diameter, which is just a few inches larger than the ones on Big Ben in London.

Other tidbits from the Commission:

  • The minute hands may not look like they're moving much, but if you add it up they travel 110 miles in a year.
  • Now that the clocks are put back together, let's leave it that way because there are 11,000 pieces in each of the four clocks.
  • There are 15 bells in the tower, with weights ranging from 300 pounds to more than 7,000 pounds. The Tower Bell Foundation organizes regular concerts.

When the building was finished in 1906 it had plenty of room for both city and county offices and courtrooms. In those days that included stables for the horses and a blacksmith shop.

Hennepin County outgrew the old building and now has its own much taller building across the street. But the Star Tribune says the county still split the cost of the $2 million clock tower renovation with the city of Minneapolis.

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