Time doesn’t always tell – Redwood City’s mystery clocks 

in Community/Featured/Headline

Who doesn’t love a good mystery, especially one that takes us back in time? A tall, stately street clock stands on the edge of downtown Redwood City’s popular Courthouse Square, a literal landmark to hundreds of people who drive or walk by it every day. Yet little is known about its history. Little? Try next to nothing.  

Meghan Horrigan, Redwood City’s then-spokesperson, came up empty handed last August when she sought information about the clock at Broadway and Middlefield Road. “I attempted to reach out to multiple staff on this including Public Works, Community Development and Transportation,” she said. “We don’t have much background to go on.” In addition, the history museum in the old courthouse just yards from the clock didn’t yield a clue. 

A search, however, came up with a brief city news release in July of 2017 reporting that city workers cleaned the green, ten-foot high clock and made sure it was in working order. In addition, Greg Wilson, the peripatetic author of the popular Walking Redwood City blog, wrote in 2014 he had taken a photo of trees near the area of the clock, which “definitely wasn’t there then.”  One of Wilson’s readers posted that the clock used to be just a few yards away from its present location but was moved back to clear.

There was speculation the clock once stood near a home at the intersection of Vera Avenue and Alameda de las Pulgas, but that was not the case. Old photos show the Vera clock was very different. That landmark clock’s past is well known, but just where it stands today is yet another timepiece mystery. The woman living in the house on Vera said she knew the clock once stood in the front yard near her fence, but otherwise she didn’t have a clue as to its whereabouts. 

In August of 1973, The Redwood City Tribune ran a long feature story about the huge timepiece, calling it “Redwood City’s newest landmark.” The clock was described as 71 years old and 16-foot, 8-inch tall. The device belonged to Ernest Lantz who felt the clock “needed a home.” The clock was built in 1902 by E. Howard Co., one of the more famous clock-making firms in the United States.  The company’s resume included the four-faced street clock that stands on Market Street in San Francisco near the Flood Building.  Lantz’ clock, which had two 42-inch hands, was located outside a jewelry store in San Rafael from 1902 until 1970. “The owner had sold the store 20 years before and the clock fell into disrepair,” Lantz said. “It was hazardous. It leaked water and it didn’t tell time on one side. It needed restoration.” 

The restoration job took Lantz, an engineer at Stanford Research Institute, three years. He added a cement foundation and landscaped a small garden around the base. “It keeps perfect time,” Lantz said of the clock.  Weighing more than 3,000 pounds, it was driven by 125-pound lead weight pendulum that he cranked once a week up a cable that winds around a drum and differential between the dials.  In the interview, Lantz said the clock drew a lot of comment since it started keeping time a month earlier.   

“The policeman, street-sweepers and milkman all like it,” he said. “One man kept returning again and again and finally said ‘I missed its strike again.’” Lantz informed him that the clock doesn’t strike. 

The newspaper article said Lantz, his wife, two sons and a daughter had lived in the same house at 2290 Vera Ave. for 18 years. It is hoped that they or someone else in their neighborhood who knows about the clock will contact Climate with information. Ditto about the clock at Courthouse Square.  

Until then, time marches on.  

 This story was originally published in the February print edition of Climate Magazine.