Greetings From The Clock of the Nations at Midtown Plaza

In downtown Rochester, New York, shoppers were growing weary of the perils that came with downtown shopping, such as dealing with traffic and endlessly searching for parking spot. Not to mention the city’s aging commercial district was beginning to look a little run down. Couple these problems with the wave of trendy new shopping centers that were beginning to pop up in nearly every suburb and it wasn’t before long that customers, along with their dollars were beginning to leave the city. This left urban business owners and local civic leaders with the big question of how can they keep people shopping downtown?

This image of downtown Rochester shows congested traffic, lack of parking, and large crowds. All of which had people driving to the suburbs to do their shopping.

In 1956, the presidents of two local department stores (Gilbert McCurdy of McCurdy’s Department Store and Maurice Forman of the B. Forman Company) got together and decided it was time for a private initiative to revitalize downtown Rochester. Their initial plan was to buy up land adjacent from their stores to add additional downtown parking. They hoped the additional parking along with major renovations to each of their stores would begin to restore their fleeting customer base.

The team brought in world renown architect and design Victor Gruen to lead the project. Gruen and his associates came and performed a long-term evaluation of not just the site, but the whole southeastern core of the city. Gruen’s conclusion was that to compete with the rise of suburban centers, downtown Rochester would need much more would than just a parking garage. The city needed a complete revitalization to it’s core, and this started with constructing a massive new urban center that would feature a mix of office space and commercial business. Now he just needed to convince not just McCurdy and Forman, but also city government that his 20 million dollar project of Midtown Plaza would be a boom to the city by generating new tax dollars and by increasing the value of neighboring real estate.

Victor Gruen – Architect, Designer, and a man of words.

McCurdy and Forman bought in, city government also quickly jumped onboard and decided to help out by agreeing to build a nine million dollar, three level parking garage with the capacity for nearly 2,000 cars directly beneath the project.

Midtown Plaza would be anchored on the northern side by two well-established and newly remodeled department stores along with the 500 room Manger Hotel. At the opposite side the plaza is the new Midtown Plaza Tower, Rochester’s tallest building at the time. The first fourteen floors of the tower house over 250,000 square feet of office space with the top four floors of the tower occupied by the upscale Top of the Tower Hotel and Restaurant where patrons could take in the cityscapes while dining from above.

At the heart of the plaza lies the Midtown Plaza Mall. A completely enclosed and climate controlled shopping center and gathering place for the community. The stores in the mall were hand selected and carefully screened to attract a more sophisticated clientele than most suburban shopping centers. There were, for example, more high-quality clothing stores and no five-and-dimes.

Midtown Mall Postcard
Greetings from Midtown Plaza Mall. This old postcard The Clock of the Nations at the heart of the absolutely stunning mall.

In addition to the variety of stores, the court of the mall would also feature a sidewalk café, a lighted fountain, and of course the Clock of the Nations. This sculpted timepiece was specially designed to be contemporary version of the centuries old animated clocks of Europe and would be the only one of its kind in the entire nation. Originally drawn on the back of an envelope by Gere Kavanaugh, a member of the Gruen and Associates staff. The concept was then passed along to sculptor Dale Clark to bring to life the vision that was to become the focal point of the mall.

Dale Clark Clock of the Nations
Sculptor Dale Clark in arrives at Midtown Plaza in working clothes ready to reassemble his remarkable timepiece.

Clark was a former Lockheed engineer turned sculptor, who at the time was living on a sailboat in Long Beach, California. He and a team of twelve craftsmen built the mechanical sculpture on a barge adjoining to his sailboat. They completely built the clock from the ground up by experimentation, with Clark even fabricating much of the internal machinery himself. Despite all this work, Clark and his team managed to complete the sculpture in just over three months. The parts were then shipped to Rochester and reassembled just in time for Midtown Plaza’s formal dedication.

Onlookers gaze in amazement as the puppets dance to the music of different nations.

The center would open in 1962 and The Clock of the Nations was an immediate hit. Crowds came in amazement to view the 28 foot tall timepiece that had a dozen revolving stages, each with its own costumed dolls, scenery, and music that represented different nations. There is a nation for each hour. Ireland at 1, Puerto Rico at 2, Scotland at 3, Japan at 4, Thailand at 5, Poland at 6, Italy at 7, Canada at 8, Germany at 9, Israel at 10, Nigeria at 11, and the United States at 12. On each hour and half hour one of the stages would open and the costumed dolls would dance to that countries music. Each 12 hours at midday and at midnight all 12 stages open and all of the dolls would dance to an American march tune.

Greetings from The Clock of the Nations – This old postcard shows a midday show at Midtown Plaza Mall.

The wonderous clock certainly wasn’t without its fair share of problems though, there were times when the wrong music would play, the puppets wouldn’t dance, or the whole thing would just stop working. And the big problem though was that nobody really knew how to fix it. Each repair to the clock would require the maintenance staff to use the same level of experimentation that Clark used in it’s design.

With a football field sized climate controlled court the Midtown Plaza Mall was a community gathering spot.

Over time other attractions came to the Midtown Plaza Mall. In 1968 a working  children’s monorail was installed and operated every year for Christmas. The mid 70s saw a genuine 25 foot tall totem pole constructed by two Native American craftsmen to celebrate the centers fifteen year anniversary. But throughout that time it was the mighty Clock of the Nations that remained the focal point of the mall with locals often using it as a meeting spot.

Clock of the nations ralph avery
A beautiful illustration by Ralph Avery shows The Clock of the Nations.

Even with it’s many features, the mall like so many other centers, fell out of fashion. During the mall’s final years of operation it’s once prestigious directory of stores was reduced down to a Peeble’s, Foot Locker, Radio Shack, and a dollar store.

In October 2007 it was announced that the Midtown Plaza would be demolished to make way for the brand new PAETEC headquarters. A year later the mall would close its doors for the last time.

Midtown Plaza Mall Totem Pole
The magnificent totem pole that once adorned the court in Midtown Plaza Mall

But what would become of the monorail? The totem pole? The clock? These were such a huge part of the lives of nearly everyone who had grown up in Rochester.

One man, Louis Perticone wanted to save them all. His plan was to rebuild the entire center square of the Midtown Plaza Mall in his warehouse/art gallery known as Artisanworks. He wanted the space to be used similarly to a banquet hall, where parties, meetings, and weddings could be held. Though an amazing idea, his plan lacked the finances and space required for such a project.

Monorail cars on display at New York Transportation Museum – Image via Genesee Valley Money Saver

A couple of the monorail cars eventually found their way to the New York Museum of Transportation where they are on display but will sadly never run again due to modern electrical codes. The totem pole was donated to the Seneca Park Zoo.

Clock of the Nations at Rochester Airport – Image via Back Roads Traveller

The clock was transported to Rochester Airport which would be its temporary home while the clock underwent a massive $100,000 electrical and mechanical repair project. It’s final home was to be Golisano Children’s Hospital where it could go back on public display but the hospital changed their minds and decided they didn’t want it. The airport had its own renovations project and they didn’t really want it either. So it was placed in storage where it remains to this day, sadly tucked away and out of the public view.


External Links

Louis Perticone’s ARTISANworks – Louis is still trying to obtain The Clock of the Nations to display at his gallery. Hopefully someday his vision comes true.

Tom the Backroads Traveler Blog – Blog with some wonderful pictures of The Clock of the Nations on display at Rochester Airport.

New York Museum of Transportation – Visit the Midtown Mall monorail cars on display.

Looking for Continuity at Randall Park Mall

The Oxford Dictionary defines continuity as the unbroken and consistent existence or operation of something over a period of time. Continuity is by no means is one of the first words that might pop into your head when thinking of Randall Park Mall. After all, the mall had a fairly short operating life of just over 30 years. But in 1976, when the mall was nearing it’s grand opening, continuity would be the perfect word to describe the DeBartolo Corporation who were busy erecting regional shopping centers at a frantic pace to keep up with consumer demand and fierce competition from rival developers.

Edward J DeBartolo
Edward J. Debartolo in front of his “Continuity” sculpture. Image courtesy of the Leo Noser Collection.

This continuity at which the company would operate would be the result of the DeBartolo Corporation’s ability to handle all aspects of shopping center development in house. From site selection and design, all the way to leasing and operations. The DeBartolo Corporation handled it all and they were quite good at it.

Thus It would only seem fitting for the DeBartolo Corporation’s crowning achievement of building and operating the world’s largest shopping mall, that they would look for the perfect piece of art to help convey the company’s image to the public in a grand fashion.

Werner Neblung
Werner Neblung, the artist behind Continuity with his son Rick directing work on one of their sculptures.

The DeBartolo Corporation would commission Werner H. Neblung, an immigrant German artist and owner of Railco Metal Craft to construct his “Continuity” piece after it had been selected from a sketch and a two foot model.

When completed Continuity would be in the shape of a ten foot cube consisting of one continuous (hence the name) ground and polished piece of polished eight inch aluminum tubing. The sculpture would weigh in at 2000 pounds and would rest on one of the end points of the cube. where it would be perched high atop a seven foot tall pyramid.

Continuity by Wener Neblung. Image via Randall Park Memories Facebook group.

Neblung would actually fabricate the entire piece completely in his studio and when complete the sculpture would receive a full month of grinding and polishing to achieve its perfectly smooth and shiny look.

Sculpture Randal Park Mall
The brushed aluminum of Continuity goes marvelously with the bright red carpets of Randall Park Mall. Image via Stores of the Year Volume I.

This striking sculpture would most certainly catch any shoppers eye from either level and from any viewpoint in the mall and would become the focal point of the lower level of the mall opposite the Higbee’s entrance.

Christmas at Randall Park Mall
During the holidays the sculpture was double perfectly as a Christmas gift. Image via Randall Park Mall Memories.

Though Randall Park Mall is long gone, rumor has it that the sculpture was removed before demolition and is currently hidden in a storage unit at the Thistledown Racino in North Randall.


Remembering “The Four Seasons” at Chapel Hill Mall

When an unfinished Chapel Hill Mall with only 19 stores opened it’s doors in late 1966 shoppers must have truly been in awe as the walked into the mall for the first time.

Four Seasons at Chapel Hill Mall
“The Four Seasons” seen in this1967 image from the American Gas Association.

Upon entering the main court the focal point was quite obvious, “The Four Seasons” a sculpted mural that spanned a whopping 218 feet and was 13 foot tall. Designed by local Cleveland artist Brian Plesmid, the sculpture was made of troweled cement over mesh and decorated with multi-colored glass. The sculptures design was to depict the areas seasonal changes in nature.

Chapel Hill Mall in Akron, Ohio
This colorized image from 1964 shows nearly the full length of the sculpture and the hallway coming in from the main entrance.

To complement the massive sculpture, the main court also featured twin musical fountains designed by Jack Erbe of the Roman Fountain Company. The fountains splashed and danced to the sound of music played throughout the court area.

This Forest CIty Enterprises publicity photo shows one of Jack Erbe’s musical fountains.

Sadly, the mall didn’t age well. Even though a market study showed that in 1993 more people shopped at Chapel Hill Mall than at any other Akron area chopping center, merchants and customers alike thought the mall was quite dated. Dennis Weiland of Retail Consulting, a firm from Macedonia was quoted in the Beacon Journal as saying that “It needs something to bring it into the 90s”.

Christmas shopping at Chapel Hill Mall
A Chapel Hill Mall employee cleans up after a long night of holiday shopping.

So bring it into the 90’s is what management did. In a 1994 remodel, the Four Seasons sculpture was either covered up or destroyed, The twin fountains were removed and replaced with an updated single fountain, and a 5 million dollar food court, complete with carousel was added.

This photo from Chapel Hill’s Facebook shows that the main court was still quite nice, though not quite as awe inspiring as when opened.

In 2021 the mall closed it’s doors for good and is being turned into a business park. One certainly can’t say that Chapel Hill didn’t have a good run though as it stayed in business 55 years and outlived its major Akron competitor, Rolling Acres Mall by 13 years.