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Old City Hall Clock Tower's Facelift Almost Complete

Jul 31, 2012

She's almost a hundred years old but not too old to get a facelift. They call her "Hortense the Beautiful" and she's the old city hall clock tower in Downtown Tampa. She's been an iconic image for the city and has been under much needed renovations.

From ground level, Hortense the Beautiful may not seem to show her age. But standing ten stories high on metal scaffolding, up close and personal, you can see every blemish on her face.

The 1915 clock tower needed its leaky copper roof and dome replaced. Cracked terracotta had to be patched. The clock even needed new hands.

"This is a view most people don't see of the dome of city hall," said Dennis Fernandez, city historic preservation manager.

He led a tour of the clock tower while pointing out the outlines of the four clock faces that were retouched.

"The goal is to really try to preserve as much of the original finish as we can," he said.

Most of the renovations were done on the outside of the clock but a few of the guts inside needed repair. Fernandez says many of the clock parts are original and can't be bought in a hardware store.  

"Yeah, this is no Swatch, many of these workings are original that you see, if there’s ever a gear that breaks, they don’t make these anymore so they have to be fabricated," Fernandez said.

So why is the clock tower called Hortense the Beautiful?

It's named after Hortense Oppenheimer, a socialite from Tampa, who was upset the city had no clock tower. The city said it had no money for one.Oppenheimer started up a campaign herself called Ye Town Criers and raised a third of the money needed.

The original structure cost $3600. Today, its renovations cost more than half a million dollars. Fernandez said the clock tower was meaningful for its time to the City of Tampa.

“As they went to construct this building, they did so with the goal of providing an iconic image for the city that would inspire the residents for the next 100 years. So it would set the spirit of the city, to show the optimism, and the potential the city had as it was growing,” he said.

The clock tower's facelift is expected to be completed within 2 weeks- just in time for the RNC.

"We all expect to see in our work is that the clock is something people really look at and identify with as being a stable part of our city and just representative of the past and the future," said Fernandez, " It may be something we walk by every day and take for granted but we recognize its importance and its beauty."