Time stands still at Old City Hall

IT’S MIDNIGHT Connie Rogers, president of the Gilroy Historical Society, shows off the intricate clock mechanism on an upper floor of Old City Hall. Credit: Jaquelne McCool

A look inside Old City Hall today, in the heart of downtown Gilroy, will show families enjoying a meal and maybe a gathering of coworkers in one of the building’s various banquet rooms.

But, a closer look reveals more than 100 years of history, found in large iron doors, hidden dumbwaiters and, of course, the large clock that sits at the top of the building—its four clock faces visible from the outside, with the inner workings of the old timepiece preserved in a plexiglass box on the building’s second floor.

Through facelifts and deed changes, Old City Hall has fought hard to preserve its history, with the Gilroy Historical Society and vigilant residents on its side. The building was under threat of being demolished twice, once in the 1970s and again after the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, which left Old City Hall in need of retrofitting and repair.

Now one of the seven buildings Gilroy has on the National Register of Historic Places, Old City Hall is the home of a restaurant by the same name, leased from the city by Fran and Bobbly Beaudet. Connie Rogers, president of the Gilroy Historical Society, believes the success of the newest venture to live inside Old City Hall comes from the commitment the Beaudets have made to honoring the history of the building.

Other tenants, Rogers said, have tried to erase the building’s past with the city and modernize its unique style, which is classified as Baroque and Mission Revival style designed by architect Frank Delos Wolfe .

The building is a place where time literally stands still, as the clock  hasn’t worked for about a year. Walter Dunkel, facilities manager for the city, said the problems with the clock mostly have to do with its advanced age.

The clock was donated to the city by local philanthropist Caroline Hoxett in 1914. Built by Seth Thomas Clock Co. in Thomaston, Connecticut, the clock has to be wound twice per week. The responsibility for maintenance falls on the city.

Dunkel said repairing the clock has gotten increasingly difficult. “There’s not too many people left that still do this,” Dunkel told the Dispatch. “It’s kind of a lost art.”

After the previous clock repairman became too old to continue his craft, the city had to find another option to get the 100-year-old clock working again.

The city is now in talks with a San Francisco-based company to fix the clock. Dunkel declined to share the name of the company because of the ongoing negotiations, he said the clock had been looked at recently to assess the necessary work.

Rogers and Fran Beaudet were shocked a few weeks ago when the time on the clock suddenly changed after months of being stuck at 12:00. However, the excitement was short-lived; the hands were stuck at 8:50 once the repair company took a look. Then after interviews for this story, it moved again, to 12:01am—fitting for the New Year.

Dunkel anticipates it may be three to four months before the historic time piece is up and running again.

As for whether or not the city worries the clock could be broken beyond repair, Dunkel said, “the people that do work on these have a great deal of experience, and it’s usually their love as well as their work.”

So as Gilroy rings in another new year, Old City Hall will stay stuck in time, a relic of the past and a reminder of the city’s rich history and bright future.