Tick Talk: Cheers greet return of timepiece to Northampton Main Street

Last modified: Wednesday, May 06, 2015
NORTHAMPTON — Everybody’s talking about it. Again.

The time and temperature device that juts out from the southwest corner of the former First National Bank of Northampton lit up Monday at precisely 10:10 a.m. in a brisk 45 degrees. The long-awaited repair of the prominent fixture at the corner of Main and King streets went live in silence and without fanfare, though news of its comeback after months of dysfunction traveled fast.

At Florence Saving Bank across the street, teller Karen Dutra, said there was an air of excitement at the bank where customers have been chattering about the clock since it broke last summer when its temperature reading stuck at 90 degrees — below zero, that is.

Monday’s reading was considerably more accurate.

“That’s a big topic, the weather and the clock,” Dutra said with a smile. “Now that it’s on, I guarantee people are going to be talking about it.”

On the other end of Main Street, City Assessor Joan Sarafin expressed glee about the clock’s return to service and talked about having endured the loss of such essential information while driving through the intersection for months on end.

“I’m so glad,” Sarafin said. “You’re sitting there waiting for the traffic light to change and you’re looking at the clock and the temp. Every time I go through, I’m looking at that clock.”

Employees at Silverscape Designs shut off the device last year when it broke and have not heard the end of it from customers and passers-by. Although the grievances died down with each passing day, the issue never truly went away and even popped up as a subject of conversation on Facebook.

“People used to come in and complain about it all the time,” Jane A. Merrill, general manager of Silverscape Designs said. “We have had people come in here and throw money at us to get this clock fixed.”

Awushie Gilbert, head buyer at the jewelry store, said the time service plays a role in people’s daily routines, according to testimony she’s heard over the years, including when the clock was not adjusted for seasonal time changes.

“People would complain, ‘You made us late, we missed our bus,’ ” Gilbert said.

“The homeless people tell me they miss the clock,” she added. “They say ‘What happened to the clock?’ and I say, ‘It’s coming, it’s coming.’ ”

The corner device is attached to the Indiana limestone building built in 1928 for First National Bank, although its original installation likely dates to the 1930s, the late property owner and jeweler Denis Perlman told the Gazette in a story published Nov. 9, 1996.

Perlman had acquired the building and time and temperature gauge from Fleet Bank in 1993 and vowed to keep the instrument, the original guts of which have been housed in a wooden cabinet in a second floor room.

In a Gazette story called “New Conversation Piece” the newspaper chronicled the arrival of the time and temperature service on the First National Bank sign at the city’s busiest intersection.

“Some of the oldsters may grow nostalgic over the replacement of the First Church clock as the more or less official timepiece on Main St. But the added attraction of the temperature seems sure to turn the tide in favor of the bank instrument,” the newspaper reported in an item whose precise date is unclear. “Never have Northamptonians been so well informed on the temperature.”

Documents show that in 1968, First National Bank entered into a 5-year lease with the American Sign and Indicator Corporation for what was described as a “time and temperature display.” Terms were that the bank pay the company $165.46 per month for the “right and license to use the display.”

At the time, the device was attached to a First National Bank sign that has since been replaced with a lighted Silverscape Designs sign.

The device has undergone several repairs over the years, including in 1996 and 2003 when a faulty amplifier that controls the temperature reading was to blame for temporary shutdowns, according to newspaper reports at the time.

The latest repair was no easy matter, according to Merrill. Silverscape Designs hired Agnoli Sign Co. of Springfield to fix the instrument with products manufactured by Nu-Media Design Systems of Mississauga, Ontario. The weather clock is now made up of two, modern LED displays that have a more orange color than the earlier yellow-hued display panels. The panels get their time signals via GPS.

“It’s more pleasant to look at in the nighttime,” Chris Hwalek, of Agnoli Sign Co., said just moments after the display turned on.

Hwalek and fellow sign installer Rich McNabb spent about two hours Monday morning getting the city its beloved timepiece up and running again with the aid of a scissor lift and police detail.

Indeed, the new orange-colored display can be seen with clarity from the far reaches of Main Street near City Hall and from Bridge Street in the opposite direction. For now, everybody passing through will know exactly what time it is again and have a good handle on climatic conditions.

“This is a pretty big deal for this to be done,” Merrill said.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.