Diamond clock baffles borough

HOLLIDAYSBURG – The time is 11:36. At least, according to the antique clock on the Diamond.

The real time at that moment was 1:22, but whether the clock was two hours behind or 10 hours ahead is unclear. Either way, many borough residents said they know it’s wrong and don’t bother checking.

Customers at D’Ottavio’s Italian House, located across the street from where the clock stands, were quick to look up from their pizzas and remark that the time’s wrong and it’s been that way for years.

Paolo D’Ottavio, the owner and namesake of the restaurant, said he’s seen people working on the clock, but “next thing I know, it’s not the right time anymore.”

He said customers mention it to him often, so he knows people care. But because it’s not reliable, he can’t use it.

Beyond concern over the clock’s malfunction, its ownership also is in question.

According to Mirror archives, a clock was planned for the Diamond when real estate developer P. Jules Patt bought the old Murphy building to begin the Town Square project in 1983.

He, along with partner Ralph Albarano, divided the building into 11 spaces for use as shops and offices, and planned a walkway between the building and what is now Finds Furniture Consignment.

The storefronts now are inhabited by Dutch Hill Chocolates, a few legal offices and others.

Then, according to Albarano, the $23,000 clock was donated to the borough.

“We hoped the borough would keep it clean, painted and [operational],” he said, and added that he was disappointed the clock has fallen into disrepair.

“It’s such a pretty clock,” he said.

Mirror archives show that when the clock was vandalized in 1987, repairs were paid for by an insurance policy that Patt had earlier obtained. However, the story also said while Patt owned the clock, it had been donated to the borough in 1983, like Albarano said.

Furthermore, a 1985 letter to the editor also said the borough owned the clock.

A plaque at the clock’s base reads, “This clock is dedicated to the children of Hollidaysburg, with the hope that they will learn it is never too late to seek a newer, better world,” with Patt’s and Albarano’s businesses listed below.

But when the Osgood family purchased the building, it seems they took over the clock as well and have been responsible for its upkeep since.

Patt’s son, Josh, confirmed his father’s work on the project but could not confirm whether the clock was included in the sale of the building years later or how it could at once be Patt’s, as well as the borough’s, property.

P. Jules Patt was unavailable for comment.

Tom Fountaine, who served as borough manager from 1985 to 2003, said he remembered there was some question as to who was responsible for the clock when it broke early in his tenure.

Perhaps the clock was symbolically donated, but it was never made official, he said.

“It was a major issue at some point,” he said.

The issue was resolved and the clock repaired, but Fountaine said he can’t remember who took responsibility or who paid for it.

Over the years, costs to repair the clock mounted, and Diane Osgood considered donating it to the borough, perhaps unknowingly for a second time.

It seems neither party was aware of the clock’s past and its seemingly joint private-public ownership.

At a June 2010 Borough Council meeting, President John Stultz said he’d been in contact with Osgood, who was planning to have the clock repaired again at a $1,000 cost.

After the repairs were finished, she wanted to turn it over to the borough, Stultz said.

Borough Manager Mark Schroyer recalled that it was his first meeting as manager, and he remembered receiving files regarding clock repair companies and a cost list.

Most were in the $1,000 to $3,000 range, he said.

He also said he remembers the discussion about accepting the donation of the clock, but council members never made an official motion.

So, as he understands it, the clock still belongs to the Osgoods, who was unavailable to comment.

Stultz said he knew the Osgoods sent repairmen to fix the clock as recently as last fall, but it “didn’t make it through Christmas,” he said. “It’s almost a comedy of errors.”

It is unclear whether there always have been problems with the clock keeping time or if it’s a result of aging parts.

Vandalism damaged the clock’s fiberglass base in 1987, when a sheaf of corn stalks attached to it was set on fire, but there was no indication it damaged anything internally.

However, Schroyer said problems with the clock might have to do with the way it was constructed.

Some of its internal mechanisms are housed in a length of conduit or tubing that runs underneath the sidewalk and into the building behind it, he said.

He speculated it may have been designed that way to protect the clock from inclement weather, but having the mechanisms run into a master-work area so far away from the clock itself might make repairing it more difficult, he said.

Borough Main Street Manager Jamie Baser said in addition, repairmen actually have four clocks to deal with. Each face has its own independent parts, so when one is fixed, another usually breaks soon afterward.

Mary Shumaker, owner of Shumaker’s Clock Repair in Altoona, said her late husband, Donald, used to work on the clock before he passed away last year.

The last time he put in a bid to fix it, she said, the owners decided to go with an out-of-town business and she wasn’t sure who they picked.

However, she said her husband told her the clock needed a lot of work, either multiple repairs or even a total restoration.

At a February borough Community Partnership meeting, Baser said members talked about holding a fundraising drive to either fix the clock or find another use for it.

Suggestions included replacing the clock’s faces with photographs or artwork, she said.

Finding the right solution is frustrating for everyone, Baser said.

She said she knows people are upset the clock doesn’t work properly, but the Osgoods have spent a lot of money trying to keep up with the repairs to no avail.

Gary Discavage, a customer of Finds Consignment Store on the Diamond and friend of the owner, said people often come in the store to ask questions about the clock, and sometimes it generates interest in the store’s wares.

But it has caused trouble, also.

“People have commented that they use the clock to check the time before putting money in the meter,” he said, then are surprised and upset when they come back to a ticket on their windshield.

Discavage said he would very much like to see the clock fixed.

“It’s such a beautiful clock and it’s a shame it’s not working, because it adds to the ambiance of the street and the historical character of Hollidaysburg.”

Some in the borough might have tried to take it upon themselves to see the clock repaired.

A few years ago, D’Ottavio said, someone came around asking business owners whether they would be willing to give donations to repair the clock, and he said he’d chip in.

He didn’t know who they were or whether they were affiliated with its owners.

But it didn’t matter, he said – no one ever returned to collect the money.

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.