Time stopped Monday at exactly 8 a.m.
The four clocks atop UC Berkeley’s Sather Tower, better known as the Campanile, ground to a halt before most summer school students even rolled out of bed, kicking off a month-long restoration project on the Berkeley icon.
The Campanile, completed in 1914, has not seen an overhaul of its clocks, facing north, south, east and west, for several decades, according to Eric Ellisen, manager of the university’s facilities renewal program.
This year, time caught up with the tower. The clocks consistently fell behind and the gears and bearings in the west face virtually froze in place, Ellisen said.
But however unreliable they may have been, students said the timepieces served an important function.
“I like to joke on tours that [the Campanile] provides students with a pretty good gauge for how late they are,” said Woody Hartman, a UC Berkeley junior and tour guide at the 307-foot tower, which provides a bird’s eye view of the city from the observation deck.
UC Berkeley will spend $25,000 to clean and restore all four of the internal clock mechanisms on the tower and provide a complete overhaul for the troubled west face.
Ellisen said the west clock makeover was prompted, in part, by encouragement from high places.
“It happens that the west face faces the chancellor’s office,” Ellisen said. “We get daily calls—‘hey the clock is a minute off.’”
The highlight of the restoration project will come June 16, when Pacifica-based steeplejack Jim Phalan plans to rappel down the west side of Sather Tower, unbolt the clock’s 8-foot hour hand and 12-foot minute hand and hoist them to the upper deck for repainting. With the hands out of the way, technicians will get a closer look at the bearings and gears.
“We have no idea what we’re going to find,” said Ellisen, noting that there is very little documentation on the clocks.
Ellisen said he has several campus machine shops at the ready to repair any broken parts or build new ones for the 89-year-old timepieces.
“You’re not going to find any off-the-shelf parts,” he said.
The university will cordon off a small portion of the esplanade below while Phalan, whose father worked on the tower for decades before him, scales the Campanile. But the tower will remain open, as it will throughout the restoration process.
The Campanile’s bells will continue to toll on the hour, every hour, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Revamping the timepieces will be the last step in an $800,000 Campanile restoration project which has included lighting work, replacement of the fire-alarm system and an overhaul of the elevator.
At 8 a.m. Monday the clock’s wooden hands, made of sitka spruce, were spun backward to indicate 6:30, where they will stay until the restoration is complete, Ellisen said, because “we thought it was an attractive location.”
UC Berkeley freshman Christina Byron, in town for summer classes, said she doesn’t expect to be distracted this month by the Campanile’s frozen clocks.
“It’s always off anyway,” she said.