Plaza Events

Restored Town Clock and Plaza Dedication

What: Celebration of the refurbished St. Johns Clock and Plaza restoration
When: Saturday, September 30th.
District-wide festivities begin at 11 A.M and last all day.
The clock dedication is at 2 P.M.
Where: St. Johns Plaza

Reprinted from the North Peninsula Review newspaper, September 2023 edition. Article written by Barbara Quinn.

St. Johns Clock

A few years ago, when St. Johns residents and business owners filled out a survey about improvements they would like to see in the Town Center, repair of the plaza clock came up as a top priority. Other improvements to the plaza were also high on the list.

The repair request has turned out to be more challenging than anyone could have expected. In a two-year process led by the St. Johns Boosters and Venture Portland that required no short supply of gumption—the plaza clock has at last been restored and returned to working order.

It required research, the tracking down of rare parts (in some cases no longer being manufactured), negotiation with the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) the site owner, the building of partnerships, and plenty of funds and tenacity.

The St. Johns town clock and the plaza were added in 1978 at the request of the Boosters. Although they are relatively new, the tradition of the town clock in small-town America is not.

Before cell phones and watches, people depended on town clocks to sound the hour.

“These clocks were originally and traditionally used to tell local time—they gave a community a sense of its own personality and its place in the world.”

Noel Poirier, director of the National Watch & Clock Museum in Columbia, Pennsylvania

Clocks particularly came of age after the Civil War in America. They probably peaked around 1920. After the crash of ’29, they fell into disrepair, they fell into decline. Town clocks can still be found in many municipalities across the county although not always in working condition.

Tanya Hartnett of Venture Portland, in partnership with the St. Johns Boosters, spearheaded the project to get the clock restored and at the same time improve the plaza. Venture Portland is an organization that invests in the smart, strategic growth of Portland’s 50 unique neighborhood business districts through grants, training, and promotion.

Tanya started the 2-year journey by approaching Doug Ray and Tom Stubblefield, neighbors who for years had repaired the clock. “They did a great job of keeping it running,” she said. But during the occupation of the plaza by houseless campers the clock was broken. Two of the clear domes over the faces were shattered and pieces got stuck behind the hands.

After researching parts, Tanya received a $5,000 grant for repair from PBOT, technically the owner of the plaza and the clock. She also received a $2,000 grant from Venture Portland and with some effort found a company that made the clear glass covering of the clock face. They no longer manufactured the part, but just happened to have two of the parts around and were willing to sell. The cost took most of the grant.

Tracking down someone who could fix the clock also required research and lots of calling. She found locals, Bob and Mark, watch repairmen who kindly worked for free. She found the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, Portland Chapter, who were willing to work on the repair as volunteers. However, the parts they needed still required funds. (They have also worked on the Meier & Frank clock as well as the OMSI clock). They repaired the motor, rewired the clock, and replaced the lights with LED. It came to $3000 in materials. The Boosters are still seeking donations to help cover the cost.

Corresponding improvements to the St. Johns Plaza include tables donated by PBOT, and benches repaired by The Joinery, a member of the Boosters, who donated wood and labor. PBOT funded replacement bricks for the short brick walls, and the Boosters provided a new bulletin board. PBOT chipped in to buy games for Thursday evening game nights hosted by a different business each week to help keep the plaza active with positive uses.

Another grant from the city’s Public Environment Management Office (PEMO) obtained cafe lights for the plaza. They are both charming and provide a safety function.

The pocket park with native plantings near Burgerville also needs attention since a number of plants were stolen last summer. There is a plan to replace them.

Next on the list of improvements planned by Tanya, Venture Portland, and the Boosters is permanent lighting for the plaza. They have obtained grants from both Prosper Portland and PBOT for lampposts with hooks for hanging plants. However, they still need to raise $25,000 to cover the cost. To donate contact or donate below.

Use the link below to donate.

Thank you for your support!

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