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clock towers in Ann Arbor

About Time

Three clock towers

by Bob & Jorja Feldman

From the December, 2018 issue

Three clock towers that stand out in their surrounding landscapes reflect different aspects of the Ann Arbor character.

The U-M's Burton Tower with its four clocks and carillon is artistry. Arborland's soaring digital clock shines brightly. Traver Village's tower clock with its abundant red brick is welcoming.

Burton Tower has four separate clocks, one for each side of the building. All share a single controller, but each has an individual mechanism. Facilities staffers Camie Munsell and Patrick Armstrong told us that once a week a millwright climbs an internal spiral staircase from the ninth floor, takes a catwalk at the top, and then inspects, adjusts, and maintains the gear boxes that drive the hands. Armstrong says that the hands occasionally get out of sync and need to be adjusted by a minute or two. Why this happens is a bit of a mystery, but wind is suspected as the culprit.

The other outstanding characteristic of Burton Tower is the Baird Carillon. It "originated in the Netherlands, where the automatic carillon [that sounds the quarters and hours] and clock system are considered an inseparable whole," says university carillonist Tiffany Ng. Its original Westminster Quarters mechanism, installed when the tower was built in 1936, is still running. The controller was replaced in 1998 by a newer Apollo controller made in Holland.

Arborland's giant digital clock is mounted high on a skeleton tower. Topped with a giant red "A," it is more visible to more people more often than any other clock in town. It can even be seen from US-23.

How do they change a light bulb way up there? The answer came from Brian Whisenhunt, director of property management for Brixmor Property Group's midwestern region. Brixmor acquired Arborland last year. While the tower has a built-in ladder, bulbs--which are getting hard to find--are replaced by a sign company using a service vehicle with a boom and bucket.

"The clock is a community landmark that we plan to preserve,"

...continued below...

says Brixmor spokesperson Kristen Moore, "but we will give it an energy-efficient update." Whisenhunt says they are also looking at a way to control the clock remotely rather than from the base of the tower. Brixmor hopes to make the updates before year's end, although the work could slide into the first quarter of 2019.

Traver Village has a clock tower at its southwest corner. Like the rest of the shopping center, the tower makes abundant use of warm red brick; like Burton, the clocks have traditional analog faces.

While the hours are running out for 2018, all three clocks will be keeping us timely company as we enter the new year.     (end of article)

[Originally published in December, 2018.]


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