Clock

The Detroit News - - Front Page - Sstein­berg@de­troit­news.com Twit­ter: @Steph_Stein­berg

In­side, she found news­pa­per clips with pic­tures and head­lines de­scrib­ing the Kern’s de­part­ment store clock in down­town Detroit.

The iconic clock on Wood­ward and Gra­tiot was in­stalled in 1933 on a cor­ner en­trance of the store. Shop­pers would use the clock as a land­mark, telling friends and fam­ily, “I’ll meet you un­der the Kern clock.”

Waisa­nen was born in Pon­tiac and had heard sto­ries about the clock from her mother, who lived in Detroit. She looked closer at the ar­ti­cles — one declar­ing “Land­mark Kern Clock Is Re­moved” — and the hands on her blue build­ing.

“The clock is huge,” she said. “It’s just not a lit­tle clock that comes from a store. You could tell it was some­where dis­played.”

There was one more thing: “Last PAT. # July 1925” was writ­ten on the box of wires. A cor­roded tag, screwed onto the box, in­di­cates the War­ren Telechron Co. in Ash­land, Mas­sachusetts, made the model.

Waisa­nen be­lieved she had the orig­i­nal clock mo­tor that was re­moved from Kern’s, des­tined for de­mo­li­tion, in 1966.

“If that clock didn’t come from there, I’ll be a mon­key’s un­cle,” she told The News, “be­cause I don’t know why I would have all the clip­pings.”

Through bliz­zards, hail and rain, the clock ticked down the years.

In the early 2000s, Boda down­sized and moved his shop to his house in Pelkie.

He sold the build­ing and said he wanted to take the clock, but he ran out of time be­fore the new owner moved in. He didn’t share the clock’s his­tory, but did leave news­pa­per clip­pings.

“One of the main rea­sons I never did noth­ing with the clock, tell anybody about it, is be­cause if I tell some­body, maybe the city of Detroit or some­one would say, ‘Hey, that’s our clock!’ and want it back,” Boda said. “So I never told no­body about it.” have been com­mis­sioned in the 1920s, as the 10-story Kern’s was built on Wood­ward and Gra­tiot next to Hud­son’s.

“The two big­gest de­part­ment stores were right next to each other and peo­ple would say, ‘I’ll meet you un­der the clock at Kern’s.’ Be­cause we didn’t have cell­phones, peo­ple had to make a plan ahead of time,” said Joel Stone, the Detroit His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety’s se­nior cu­ra­tor.

That’s what Detroi­ters did un­til 1959 when the store closed amid com­pe­ti­tion from sub­ur­ban shop­ping cen­ters.

For seven years, the clock re­mained on the va­cant build­ing, un­til it was moved to the Stroh’s ware­house for stor­age.

Later, the time­piece was moved to Otto Kern’s Westview es­tate in Bloom­field Hills, where it was stored in the sta­bles un­til the Ju­nior League of Detroit launched the Kern Block Beau­ti­fi­ca­tion Project in 1973.

The league raised $16,000 to re­store the clock and build a pedestal.

Mary Louise Kern Viger, the only daugh­ter of Otto Kern, was a long­time mem­ber of the league. Lam­brecht, Viger’s daugh­ter and a league mem­ber, said her fam­ily do­nated the clock for the cause.

“We were thrilled the Ju­nior League took this project on,” Lam­brecht said. Good­will build­ing down­town un­til Ron Cary came to pick it up. Cary worked for Sul­li­van-Bern­hagen, the sheet me­tal com­pany that landed the deal to re­store the clock.

“It came to us to be re­paired be­cause it’s all cop­per and 400 lay­ers of paint on it. So ba­si­cally, we stripped it down,” said Cary, now 68 of Riverview.

Cary re­paired the dents and cop­per and worked with a com­pany from Grand Rapids that in­stalled new guts. The clock had three faces, which meant there were three mo­tors in­side — each with a small clock face to in­di­cate the time dis­played out­side.

“When we took it apart, only one mo­tor worked,” Cary said.

The Grand Rapids com­pany re­placed the busted glass faces with plas­tic and in­stalled a mod­ern mo­tor. Cary had no use for the old mo­tor, but knew his brother-in-law, Al Boda, en­joyed ma­chine parts.

“I gave my brother-in-law the mo­tor that op­er­ated one face of the clock,” Cary said. “I gave him the one that still worked be­cause we weren’t us­ing them. We would have thrown them away.”

He also gave him the wood hands, pow­ered by the mo­tor.

Cary’s sis­ter re­mar­ried, and he lost touch with Boda over the decades. It wasn’t un­til The News reached him that he found out the mo­tor and hands still kept time.

“I can’t be­lieve it! You know how old that is?” he laughed. “They used to build them good, I guess.”

As Stone of the Detroit His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety puts it, early 20th cen­tury clocks were “built a whole lot dif­fer­ently than clocks built to­day.” The Kern clock parts in the U.P. may not be worth much, but they do have his­toric value, he added.

“The fact we’ve got the orig­i­nal hous­ing here, but it’s got a new clock­work in takes a lit­tle away from that his­toric value, just the way you take a mus­cle car and you pull out the orig­i­nal en­gine and put in a new en­gine,” Stone said. “It’s not go­ing to be orig­i­nal, and it’s not go­ing to have the same his­toric value.”

Robert DuMouchelle, an ap­praiser and auc­tion­eer at DuMouchelle in Detroit, looked at pho­tos of the mo­tor in the U.P. and con­firmed it’s the right vin­tage. Af­ter hear­ing the back­story of how the clock got to Chas­sell, he said “it sounds ex­tremely plau­si­ble” that’s the Kern mo­tor.

“There’s a lot of neat things that peo­ple pre­served over the years, but that doesn’t au­to­mat­i­cally turn into a win­ning lot­tery ticket. ... I don’t think if you pulled it from there and put it some­where else it would be of greater value,” he said.

The re­stored clock in Detroit was sup­posed to sit on a fancy pedestal, but Cary said the league ran out of funds, so it de­buted in 1980 on a “cheaper pole.” The clock re­mained at its orig­i­nal spot un­til 1998 when it was re­moved for pro­tec­tion dur­ing Hud­son’s de­mo­li­tion.

At one point, there was talk of in­stalling it in front of the Detroit His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, Stone said, “but that never hap­pened.”

In­stead, it was stored at Fort Wayne un­til Peter Kar­manos Jr.’s team tracked down the clock to erect it out­side his new Com­puware build­ing in Oc­to­ber 2003.

“We thought it ap­pro­pri­ate to have the clock re­stored and in­stalled,” said Denise Starr, then-Com­puware’s ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of ad­min­is­tra­tion, adding it was “Kar­manos’ idea to pre­serve that his­tor­i­cal land­mark that so many re­mem­ber.”

To­day, the three-faced clock, each side em­bla­zoned with “KERN’S” in cop­per, re­mains on its home cor­ner atop a hefty pedestal. A plaque re­minds passersby, “‘I’ll meet you un­der the Kern Clock’ was a com­mon Detroit ex­pres­sion for al­most a cen­tury.’ ”

When told by The News, the third­gen­er­a­tion Kerns were shocked to learn a piece of their grand­fa­ther’s clock is now on a sauna shop about 550 miles from Detroit.

“It’s re­ally a fas­ci­nat­ing story,” Jef­frey Kern said.

At noon Wed­nes­day, the three grand­chil­dren met un­der the clock, swap­ping mem­o­ries and sto­ries Detroi­ters have shared about us­ing the clock as a meet­ing spot. The other seven Kern grand­chil­dren, they said, were also stunned to hear the orig­i­nal mo­tor is still op­er­at­ing on some far-away build­ing.

“We’ll have to make a pil­grim­age up to the U.P. to see it,” Jef­frey Kern said.

Waisa­nen, mean­while, wasn’t sur­prised to find out her hunch was right. In the last few weeks, she con­nected with Boda who ex­plained the clock’s in­ner work­ings and shared up­keep ad­vice. (Waisa­nen al­ready re­painted the hands white be­fore learning the his­tory.)

And if any­one’s cu­ri­ous, Waisa­nen isn’t in­ter­ested in sell­ing it.

“I won’t let it go,” she said.

David Ar­cham­beau / Spe­cial to The Detroit News

Em­ploy­ees of Ke­weenaw Sau­nas stand with owner Tammy Waisa­nen, sec­ond from left.

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