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Tampa's Old City Hall clock tower gets a makeover

TAMPA — Standing on a scaffold more than 10 stories above downtown, Manny Kavouklis looks at nearly a century of Tampa history, some of it weathered, some of it deteriorated, all of it beloved.

"This isn't your normal trip to the hardware store," said Kavouklis, the general contractor for a $585,000 makeover to the tower housing Hortense, the four-sided clock that chimes out the hours atop Old City Hall.

The project includes removing and replacing the tower's leaking copper roof, including its decorative cap and medallions. It also will entail rebuilding damaged columns, refinishing the metal clock face, and replacing lighting fixtures, the clock's hands, and the white filmed glass behind the clock face.

Old City Hall was built in 1915, and it features materials, finishes and techniques that haven't been used for decades. To replace the copper roof, for example, Kavouklis went to Columbus, Ohio, for a subcontractor who specializes in re-roofing historic structures, including the copper dome roof on the state Capitol building in Tallahassee.

And on some parts of the job, city officials and contractors have looked at old Burgert Brothers photographs for guidance.

"Unfortunately, the original plans don't exist, so we've had to improvise," said Dennis Fernandez, the city's manager of historic preservation and urban design.

The work generally is proceeding top to bottom, which includes refabricating the decorative ball atop the flagpole. The roof sealant was in place and watertight before Tropical Storm Debby.

Workers have found some aging and damaged areas that need repair — Kavouklis pointed out some rusted lintels — but he said the tower overall is structurally sound and in great shape.

"Good for another 100?" Tampa director of planning and development Thomas Snelling asked during a recent tour.

"The roof will be," Kavouklis said.

The job started in late May and is expected to be done by the end of July or early August, well before the Republican National Convention from Aug. 27-30. City officials don't want to have an active construction site going during the event.

"We would have had to do this regardless, but we would like to get it done before the convention," Tampa public works director Irvin Lee said.

The clock is named in honor of Tampa socialite Hortense Oppenheimer Ford, who raised money to buy the timepiece during City Hall's construction. The idea was to make a statement about Tampa's future, and the clock has remained a symbol of the young city's optimism since.

"When our city was going from being a town to a city," Fernandez said, "this building helped define that transition."

Richard Danielson can be reached at or (813) 226-3403.

Tampa's Old City Hall clock tower gets a makeover 07/07/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 7, 2012 11:23pm]
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