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New England Structures and Buildings

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Custom House tower clock [Dec. 29th, 2008|11:06 am]
New England Structures and Buildings



The E. Howard and Co. clock, located on the Marriott Custom House tower in downtown Boston, is one of the largest mechanical clocks in New England. The face of the clock was completed along with the tower in 1919.  The original clock was an electrical impulse type, but had completely disappeared. In 1949 a Howard # 3 tower clock was then added on the top 23rd floor.  The clock’s internal workings – its gears, pendulum, and motor – were built for a much smaller clock and the clock earned the name "The Four Faced Liar" because each side showed a different time. 

Dave (The Clock Shop - Hanover, Massachusetts) and Ross Hochstrasser (Ross Hochstrasser Clock Service - Whitman MA ) restored the long-neglected Howard No. 3 tower clock in Boston’s Custom House in 1987.  Boston Edison, as a gift to the city, paid for restoring the clock after years of deterioration. David and his brother Ross, both professional clock restorers, and just starting out, were awarded the contract to restore this clock with four 24’ dials and wooden hands. Since the twice daily, electrically wound replacement Howard movement installed in 1950 was not powerful enough for the original wooden hands, they were replaced with a new set of hands consisting of composite over a styrofoam core.

In 1995 the Marriott Hotel Corporation took over management of the Custom House. Marriott started to convert the building to condominiums. Once again, David and Ross were asked to repair and restore the clock which had been shoved against the north wall of a game /laundry room Marriott had constructed on the 23rd floor. The main problem was devising hand shafts from 4’ to 36’ to operate a clock that was now up against that north wall.

Making sure the clock is running properly is important to Dave Hochstrasser. “It’s a very historic building and it should be kept up,” he said. Despite a less than enthusiastic Marriott, union problems, Boston city bureaucracy in obtaining permits to work on the face, and the need to meet the desires of preservationists and historical groups, the brothers overcame each roadblock, often obtaining help from many other people. They exhibited great ingenuity and clever solutions to the technical and working problems they encountered. They finally finished the job they started in 1996 in July of 1997-probably with a sigh of relief!

A ¼-inch of snow on the end of one of the 11 1/2-foot minute hands can place such a heavy burden on the internal works that it stops altogether. Dave Hochstrasser will then drive up from his South Shore home to Boston to re-set the time.  "Each hand weighs about 35 pounds, so it takes some physical effort to get all of them moving,"  While Hochstrasser spends most of his time in the clock during the winter, in the spring the tower has some additional visitors – falcons often nest in the topmost window of the tower, facing the harbor.