Previous Lives of Santa Cruz’s Clock Tower

The Clock Tower at its current home at the intersection of Mission Street, Front Street and Pacific Avenue.
The Clock Tower at its current home at the intersection of Mission Street, Front Street and Pacific Avenue.

Santa Cruz’s Town Clock is a beloved landmark, the symbol of the downtown neighborhood and a frequent gathering spot. But it hasn’t always been where you see it today.

The Clock’s First Home

Originally, the clock tower was an ornament to the Odd Fellows Lodge built in the late 1800s and located near the courthouse on Pacific Avenue. The “Odd Fellows” is a men’s social organization, similar to the Elks or Masons.

The clock in its original location above Pacific Avenue between Cooper and Church Streets. Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.
The clock in its original location above Pacific Avenue between Cooper and Church Streets. Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

As prominent downtown landmark, the clock was chosen as the site of the first public installation of electric lighting, when electricity came to Santa Cruz in 1896. For many Santa Cruzans, the same clock, so familiar to us today with its pretty rows of lightbulbs, was the first electric light they had ever seen.

The town clock escaped the fire of 1894 but burned in 1899. It was rebuilt within a year. Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.
The town clock escaped the fire of 1894 but burned in 1899. It was rebuilt within a year. Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

The Clock Tower Goes Underground

In 1965, the owners of the Odd Fellow’s building remodeled it into a featureless mid-century office building. The clock was removed and stored in the basement of the City museum in Seabright (currently called the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History).

The Town Clock dismantled in a field circa 1970. Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.
The Town Clock dismantled in a field circa 1970. Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

Out of the Basement

In 1970, volunteers from both the University of California Santa Cruz and the town began working to find a new home for the clock. By the time of the bicentennial in 1976, public donations had paid for a tower to be built over an existing fountain. The old clock was repaired and erected at the top the newly developed Pacific Garden Mall. The next year, a demonstration against the B-1 bomber was held at the Town Clock, and for decades after the clock has been the city’s meeting place for protest, celebration, and mourning.

The town clock in 2015.
The town clock in 2015.

Many thanks to the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History for use of their historical photos.

Take the Self-Guided Mobile Tour

This piece is part of the Mission Hill Staircase Tour made possible by local history researcher Linda Rosewood. Download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond.

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Go to Mobile Ranger Guides in the Apple App Store
Go to Mobile Ranger Guides in the Google Play Store
  1. Sources Used

    • Advertisement showcasing Fred J. Morris fountain installation. Santa Cruz Sentinel. Sun, July 16, 1967.
    • Town Clock is Coming, Santa Cruz Sentinel, May 26, 1974.
    • B-1 Bomber Vigil Planned, Santa Cruz Sentinel, January 20, 1977.



About The Author

Linda Rosewood

Linda Rosewood loves to research Santa Cruz history and has lived in downtown Santa Cruz for over 30 years. She loves to walk everywhere; that way she can find the next interesting local landmark to research. She posts her discoveries at her blog, History Right Here.

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