About-Face: The Timely Use of an Old Icon


A historical clock will once again be showcased in downtown Tyler.

Parts of the original clock, which was displayed on top of the old Smith County Courthouse, will be used in a tower at the Fair Plaza Garage. The parking garage project is under construction.

Tyler architect Jason Jennings, who serves as chairman of the Tyler Historical Preservation Board, said he did research at the Smith County Historical Society on well-known Tyler buildings and tried to recreate those facades for the parking garage.

He said the city wanted something that identified the parking garage building, and the historical society, which had been storing the clock, jumped at the chance to have the clock displayed there.

"The Smith County Historical Society is so excited about having a home for the clock and getting it out of storage, and we get to see it again and get it back in use," Tyler Mayor Barbara Bass said.

City Manager Mark McDaniel said refurbishing work is taking place out-of-state and is being privately funded.

There will be two clock faces, one facing South Broadway Avenue and another facing Elm Street, and the mechanics and bell system will be modern, City Engineer Carter Delleney said. Jennings said each clock face is about 6 feet in diameter. He said three of the original light fixtures from the district courtroom of the old courthouse are also being refurbished and will provide lighting inside the parking garage tower.

"The thing I'm excited about is that this is not going to be just any old typical run of the mill parking garage," McDaniel said. There is "great care in trying to make sure that it's aesthetically pleasing and it reflects some of the buildings that are no longer here, and bringing back some of that history in a new facility ... right there on our front door on Broadway, so it was important that it was something that was an attractive building and fit into the architecture for the downtown."

Mayor Bass said, "I think with our Half Mile of History that we have recognized people, places and events that have been important to Tyler. We've really emphasized how much history means to us, and being the foundation of our community of knowing where we came from and where we're going, so this is just an icon that is symbolic of our commitment to recognizing our history."

The old Smith County Courthouse was built in 1909 and was torn down in the 1950s, according to the historical society.

When the clock was at the old courthouse, it served as a scheduling tool, said Mary Jane McNamara, with the historical society.

"You knew exactly what time it was within six blocks of the courthouse," she said.

Ms. McNamara said soldiers from Camp Fannin also wanted to have their picture taken on the courthouse steps because the courthouse was "made so beautifully."

After the courthouse was torn down, Joe Zeppa, who was an immigrant from Italy, purchased various things from the courthouse, including the clock faces, she said.

The items were later given to the Smith County Historical Society.

Joe Zeppa's son, Keating Zeppa, said his father grew up as boy in Italy, where it was common in most towns to have a clock tower. He would be pleased that original clock faces are being used for the parking garage project, the son said.

Ms. McNamara said the historical society also is pleased.

"We have been so happy to have a safe and appropriate use for the clock instead of having it in storage," she said.

"It's one of our prized possessions. It means a whole lot to us, and I'm sure it does to old timers, and I think in times to come it will help to preserve downtown," she added.

Ms. McNamara said she also believes the parking garage will help bring more people downtown.

"If we can contribute to that and save some of our heritage — that's what we believe in with all our hearts," she said.


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