Being Three Faced: The Unsolved Mystery of the San Jose Clock Tower

"I'm on the outsiiiiiiide, I'm looking innnnnnn..."

“I’m on the outsiiiiiiide, I’m looking innnnnnn…”

Sarah Winchester’s crib isn’t the only mysterious edifice in San Jose.

It might be the fact that I watched Back to the Future this weekend and have clock towers on the brain, but I had the urge to explore an understated San Jose mystery: why the historic San Jose Clock Tower only has three faces. There is a circular indentation where the fourth clock—facing east—would be affixed, but alas, it remains empty. Conspiracy? A matter of structural integrity? Bizarrely obvious oversight?

Before we speculate on that, let’s look at some facts:

  • The clock tower was built in 1892…not a great year for the birth of a building since a bit over a decade later many of them would come crumbling down in the 1906 earthquake. And crumble down it did.
  • In 1908 the city began reconstructing the tower, a project that never fully reached completion.
  • The clock inside is a famed Nels Johnson Century Tower Clock which isn’t just your average, run of the mill Swatch. At the time, it was one of the finest clocks available (yet another mystery is why San Jose was chosen to receive such a gift), and is speculated to be “the first high-tech instrument built in San Jose.” Today it needs to be hand-wound, but is evidently still ridiculously accurate, to within a few seconds over a month.
  • And most importantly—be sure to soak this in— the original clock tower did, in fact, have four clock faces.

No one seems to know why the clock tower only has three faces today, not even those responsible for its preservation and restoration efforts. In response to my hard-hitting, investigative interrogation (“Would you be so good as to let me know why there are only three faces on the San Jose Clock Tower please?”) I got this response:

Hello Jordan. No one knows why the clock tower only has 3 faces.  The original tower did indeed have the fourth face.  You can see a picture of it on the FB page.

Wolf Blitzer I am not.

Perhaps no one does know for sure why the clock is the way it is, but theories abound. Here are a smattering.

Not giving the east side the time of day

Theory number one—which happens to be the one I’ve heard the most—is that the missing clock is a cheap shot to the east side. Why? Who knows. It’s not the first clock in history to include only 3 faces, intentionally slighting a side of town they were not particularly fond of. (A number of clocks in England, for example, are purported to have excluded a fourth clock face for this reason).Those involved with the restoration debate whether or not to include the fourth face, and there’s absolutely no reason not to. In an interview with The Metro, John Mitchell, who is spearheading the restoration efforts, made this remark:

‘If we don’t [add the fourth face], then people on the East Side will complain,’ Mitchell says. “They’ll say, ‘What, d’ya think the East Side isn’t good enough?'” (Knowing San Jose, that’s probably exactly what would happen.)”

Yet sources point to “no” on adding the fourth face. Sorry east side; you’ll have to resort to sun dial.

Wondering “weather” or not to do it

Seeing that the sun rises in the east, one school of thought believes that the weather-induced wear and tear of the clock would become an eyesore, particularly compared to the other faces. However, one would presume that if we can preserve centuries-old Italian frescoes, surely we could weather-guard a clock.

Time is money, people

One clock tower in England, paid for by public subscription, had either an ironworking business or shipyard that refused to pay for a fourth clock face because employers on that side of the clock didn’t want their employees wasting time “clockwatching.” In Silicon Valley, we’re all about productivity. So this theory makes an iota of sense that could promote it from “laughable” to “plausible.”

The question remains: will we ever solve the mystery of the clock? Will it ever be returned to its original form? And will they ever add the elusive fourth face?

Only time will tell.

Heard (or want to start) any other theories? Do tell!

Secrets of the Library

What does a secret hiding spot, a hilarious window, and a really creepy lock of aged hair have in common? They’re all part of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. library in San Jose, which is so much more than a bunch of books and college students half-reading them. If you’re meandering through downtown, stop in at the library and check out these hidden gems along with a favorite book:

Secret in the Browsing Library: On the first floor of the library in the area labeled “Browsing Library” you’ll find a Harry Potter-esque secret hiding space. One of the bookshelves, when pushed, will swing open and reveal a space large enough to hide inside.

Spinning bookshelf

The Reason Why San Jose is the North American Vienna: Thanks to a donation in the early ‘80’s by avid Beethoven collector, Ira F. Brilliant, the DMLK library’s third floor houses the largest collection of Beethoven paraphernalia outside of Europe. An impressive collection of fortepianos, manuscripts in Beethoven’s own handwriting, and…yes…a now famous lock of Beethoven’s hair (clipped off of his dead body by a visitor to the funeral home where he was temporarily housed *shudder*), make this museum a must-see if you’re making your way through the library’s oddities.

Fortepianos at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library

The oldest lock of hair in the MLK library

Alice’s Adventures in the Elevator: In the southernmost elevator on the first floor of the library, you’ll see a door that is totally inefficient for anyone riding up to check out a science textbook, but just perfect if you’re 2 feet tall and fixing to go to Wonderland. The door, otherwise known as the “Hatch,” is a work of art by Mel Chin, who contributed to artistic installations throughout the library.

The Hatch

The Burned and the Banned: Throughout the library are bookshelves that stand over “vaults” of books that have been burned or otherwise banned in the past.

Wisecracking Windows: On the 7th floor bridge you’ll find a window paying homage to artist Marcel Duchamp’s “Large Glass.” Look closely and you’ll find that the cracks are comprised of eensy-weensy etched jokes and puns.

Am I hearing things?: On the third floor around call numbers 642-658, you’ll hear the sound of pages turning above you followed by the sound of a book closing as you reach the end of the row.

Finish your trip to the library with a literature-themed sandwich from On Fourth: A Novel Café on the ground floor. (I highly recommend the “Great Gatsby!”) For a complete list of oddities to round out your library scavenger hunt, visit http://www.sjlibrary.org/melchin-art-list.

Dookie in the Park

Quetzalcoatl

Yes, children are climbing on it, and yes, I find that gross too.

Ascending nearly 8 feet into the sky above Plaza de Cesar Chavez in San Jose, is the “plumed serpent,” a fearsome Aztec deity, the anthropomorphic god of the morning star…who, very unfortunately, resembles a pile of you-know-what.

Yes, San Jose’s “Quetzalcoatl” is a big, brown, steaming pile of…artistic iteration….that based on its weirdness alone makes it worthy to be visited. Erected in 1994 in downtown San Jose, this sculpture has left many confused, few inspired, but all interested in learning—why oh WHY would we let this statue reside at the end of such a prominent San Jose park?

Now, don’t all go blaming Richard Graham- San Jose’s Quetzalcoatl sculptor who was commissioned to make a piece that would honor the city’s Mexican heritage. We possibly have author D.H. Lawrence to thank for this particular rendition of the ubiquitous Aztec god based on Lawrence’s note in 1926, that existing statues of Quetzalcoatl in Mexico were “coiled like excrement.” Graham’s original vision- one of multicolored bronze, three stories high- was given the big “deny” stamp by San Jose. What they got instead was, well, visit the Plaza de Cesar Chavez and see for yourself. D.H. Lawrence…what hath thou wrought?!

If you’re anything like us you may often be tempted to string Quetzalcoatl in Christmas lights or put him in a Santa hat or dress him in an oversize bikini in the summertime. Beware! We assume that the fine for dressing up, a.k.a. “defacing” the $500,000 landmark would be extremely costly, not to mention that a charge of “getting arrested for dressing up a humungous turd like a pirate” would be a difficult blot on any permanent record to explain. Thusly, we urge anyone tempted to give our coiled colon-release a makeover to perhaps just Photoshop a Santa hat in.

singlebarrel

With the help of a glossary of ‘20’s slang, allow me to introduce you to a San Jose speakeasy that you have probably walked by and never noticed but is nothing less than the cat’s pajamas (the best, greatest, wonderful).

Around the corner from The Agenda Lounge you’ll find singlebarrel, marked by—now don’t let this blow your mind too much—a single barrel on the exterior wall and their version of a bouncer- a guy in a newsboy hat not to be mistaken for a drugstore cowboy (guy that hangs around on a street corner trying to pick up chicks). singlebarrel might be the first bar I’ve ever visited with rules other than keeping your clothes on and not getting into fistfights. For instance, if you’re planning to beat your gums (chatter idly) too loudly, you might get bum rushed (kicked out of the establishment). If you’re party size is greater than six, you’ll have to sit at separate tables. And if you’re thinking of wildly hoofing (dancing), this isn’t the place.

Fixings for a mean old fashioned

If you can handle a much more muted juice joint (bar), though, you’re in for a really unique experience. At singlebarrel, you don’t give them a drink order. Instead, the bartenders—all dressed up in 20’s garb and touted for really knowing their giggle water (alcohol)—craft a special drink based on your tastes. In other words, you tell them you like strong drinks that still have a fruity flavor, or you want something tangy and sour, or yes, you’re a man but you still insist on drinking a bright pink cocktail, and they take that information to whip up your own “signature drink” that you’re sure to love.

How copacetic (wonderful) is that?

 An old fashioned by candlelight