Soon community members in La Grande will be able to see an iconic clock come back in its original — though slightly improved — glory.

This 100-year-old clock used to sit on Adams Avenue. In the 1970s, it was struck by a vehicle and the clock face split in two. The base of the clock stood in its stead until 2015 when it was removed completely. This month, after years of planning its restoration, it will make its return and be installed in front of City Hall.

The clock was originally owned by a La Grande optometrist, according to City of La Grande Economic
Development Director Christine Jarski, who inherited the restoration project when she stepped into her role.

“Dr. (George) Birnie moved (the clock) from Canada to La Grande. It was an advertisement for his optometry and jewelry store,” she said.

The “advertisement” was an eyeball on the top of the clock. More than a decade after its installation in the 1920s, Dr. Birnie moved his business and the clock. At that point, she said, the clock lost its eye and a light replaced it.

That’s the model the new clock will have, she said.

“Finding (the clock) was like putting a puzzle together,” Jarski said.

Local business owner and welder Matt Orthmann, who owns Orthmann Ironworks, had part of the clock in his shop. He was given part of the clock face that had been in disrepair since the face had been stored outside on a farm for decades.

“It became more of a paperweight,” Orthmann said of the face. “It was such a beautiful piece of history, though. We were resurrecting this little thing. It felt a little like Indiana Jones — it was covered in mud and dirt and I had to clean it out.”

Jarski said multiple people had different parts of the clock and tracking them down was a challenge.

Betty Lantz, whose ancestor was one of the original employees of the optometry store, was in possession of one of the pieces of the clock.

“It means a lot to us (that the clock is being restored),” Lantz said.

She said the original clock had to be wound daily to keep its time.

“A lot of times the clock wouldn’t be wound,” she said laughing. “Hopefully now it will run by electricity.”

In fact, that is one of the few upgrades the clock received. Although it will be electric, Orthmann and Jarski wanted to keep the bulk of the original clock intact.

Jarski said the project to restore the clock falls under the city’s streetscape project, which is geared toward revitalizing the downtown area of La Grande.

“We want to create an atmosphere that is welcoming to people and businesses,” she said of the streetscape project. “The more you can do to revitalize the downtown area, the more people want to hang out there. This clock is one of the historic icons on Adams Avenue. It’s been downtown since 1928. To have it back and restored so that it functions again makes it a significant piece of our heritage in La Grande.”

The city has been making strides to better the downtown area with Urban Renewal dollars. Jarski and other city staff have been heading up projects to restore the old buildings.

“There’s a strong attachment to this iconic structure,” Jarski said. “We wanted to bring it back to life.”

Orthmann, who spent countless hours trying to restore the pieces of the clock to closely resemble the original, understood the pressure of the project.

“I went downtown to look at the clock (base) and it was in terrible disrepair,” Orthmann said. “Then someone brought it to my attention there was an actual clock that used to be on top of it. Then the clock (face) showed up at my shop one day and I was told it had been under a tree at a farm (since the 1970s).”

Orthmann had some of the pieces to the clock in his shop for years and was eager as the restoration project gained momentum. Unfortunately, progress slowed to the point where Orthmann said he was skeptical it would ever be finished — that is, until the project was brought up again by the city.

Now Orthmann is looking at putting the finishing touches on the clock.

“It’s been a huge honor to be a part of this for sure,” he said. “This town is near and dear to me. I’m part of this community and being able to give back to it is huge.”

Lantz said people in the community have often questioned what happened to the clock. Soon they’ll be able to see it again.

At 11:15 a.m. on Oct. 25, the city will hold a ceremony celebrating the clock’s reinstallation, and the community is invited to attend.

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