For more than 50 years, the 60-foot-tall clock tower crafted by artist Jan de Swart stood in the center of the plaza created by the intersections of the Fulton and Mariposa malls in downtown Fresno.
On Tuesday, crews used a crane to gingerly pluck the tower from that spot to relocate it 30 feet or so south – just far enough to get it out of the path of work to reconstruct Fulton Street and reopen the six-block stretch of the mall to two-way automobile traffic.
About six weeks ago, workers attached wooden braces to reinforce the spindly tower, erected in 1964, to prepare for the move. “It was inspected by structural engineers and it was determined to be in pretty good shape,” said Randall Morrison, assistant public works director for the city of Fresno. “But it’s still a delicate art piece and they’re taking the proper precautions to brace it and secure it when they move it.”
The tower is make of glue-laminate beams, lumber and plywood, with an overcoat of fiberglass and brown paint. The clocks were removed from the tower for repairs and restoration, and conservation work to restore the tower will begin after it settles in its new site on the southwest side of Fulton Street in what will become Mariposa Plaza.
De Swart, born in the Netherlands in 1908, emigrated to the U.S. in 1929 and worked initially as a furniture maker, according to the Smithsonian Institution’s Archive of American Art. Beginning in the 1940s, “he devoted himself to sculpture in wood, metal and plastic, and participated in many exhibitions. His many commissions included murals, jewelry, furniture, and sculptured screens in a wide variety of media,” according to the archive.
In addition to his art, “de Swart was an inventor who held over 100 scientific patents (for items including) rivets, grommets, and other types of fasteners used for ships, aircraft, and machinery; he also developed a strong, honey-combed core material that was used for a variety of structural purposes,” the Smithsonian archive says. De Swart died in 1987.
Morrison said conservation and restoration work is complete on nearly all of the rest of the Fulton Mall artwork moved when work on the Fulton Street reconstruction began last year. The pieces, including works in bronze, clay, stone and copper, will be reinstalled on wide Fulton Street sidewalks as “superblock” sections of the street prepare to reopen – expected to be in mid- to late August for the northern segment between Fresno and Tuolumne streets and for the southern segment between Tulare and Inyo streets.
Sixteen of the mall’s 21 original water features – pools and fountains – also are part of the new streetscape.
Opening of the central two-block section between Fresno and Tulare streets is targeted for Oct. 21.
Construction to rebuild Fulton Street began in early 2016 and was originally expected to be completed in May.