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Not quite deja vu; Clock tower look-alike will preserve spirit of the original.

Byline: Thomas Caywood

WORCESTER -- On a hill overlooking Lake Quinsigamond, at the site of the former Worcester Lunatic Asylum, a clock tower is rising where once stood a clock tower.

Construction crews expect to finish the 135-foot-tall, Gothic-style structure in the spring.

The precise nature of what they're building there is less clear than the construction schedule, though.

Perhaps it's a reproduction of the Worcester State Hospital Clock Tower built in 1877 and torn down by the state last year.

"No, it's not a reproduction,'' figured Dr. Peter Schneider, a former member of the Worcester Historical Commission. "It's partly a restoration. Well, the outside, the face, is a restoration because the original materials are being put back where they were.''

Demolition crews salvaged the original clockworks and facing stones, which now are being painstakingly reassembled as a kind of historic skin around a modern concrete skeleton.

The new clock tower will have the exact dimensions of the original except that it stands solitary, like an obelisk, where the original one sprouted from within a six-story administration building.

Perhaps the new structure is a monument to the High Victorian Gothic building and clock tower that occupied the hilltop perch for more than a century.

Eh, that's not quite right either, says Christopher Dustin, a professor of philosophy at the College of the Holy Cross.

"A monument is something that marks the spot or takes the place of the something that was there before. This isn't really like that. It was there before, but in a different form,'' said Mr. Dustin, who teaches classes in the philosophy of art and architecture.

If it's not a restoration, a reproduction or a monument, then perhaps the hybrid structure taking shape is nothing more than a forgery or a Disney-esque parody of a lost historic building.

Dr. Schneider and Mr. Dustin don't think that's the case either.

"That would be a real concern if somebody had just put up something to resemble the original, but that's not what's being done here. The upper part has the original facing and the design is exactly as it used to be,'' said Dr. Schneider, who was involved in the effort to save or commemorate the clock tower.

Mr. Dustin pointed to The Shoppes at Blackstone Valley in Millbury for an example of architectural parody. He noted the small wooden structure, made to look like an old mill building, set along the mall access road.

"It has clapboard siding. It even has a water wheel. But it does not look old at all. It's just kind of weird to have it there. I suppose it's meant to make the whole place look more like a village. That's a parody,'' he said.

Historic preservationists, including Dr. Schneider and Preservation Worcester Executive Director Deborah Packard, fought unsuccessfully to save the administration building for possible future reuse when the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance first proposed tearing it down to make room for a modern psychiatric hospital on the grounds.

The agency ultimately agreed to build a $2.3 million faithful copy of the clock tower using as much of the original materials as possible.

"Would we rather have the building standing there and eventually reused? Definitely,'' Preservation Worcester's Ms. Packard said. "It was definitely a compromise on our part, but this achieved evoking the memory of a building and an institution and kept it visible on the landscape.''

The demolition contractors who tore down the original tower last year measured and numbered each stone block as they removed it.

A spokesman for the general contractor, Gilbane Inc. of Providence, said the company's crews are working from detailed construction plans that show the precise location of each numbered stone taken from the upper portion of the original clock tower.

The architects had to design an appropriate stone exterior for the lower part of the new structure because the original clock tower, which emerged from within the administration building, had no lower exterior on three sides.

Mr. Dustin suggested the new clock tower could be thought of as a re-presentation of its historic predecessor.

"You take that idea of a clock tower that stood at the center of the building, and you put it back but with nothing around it,'' he said. "It's taken out of its practical context, which can seem odd, but it also calls attention to that original idea in a new way.''

Perhaps the drastic transformation from clock tower to pile of stones back to clock tower is just an extreme example of the transformations many buildings undergo through time as lumber and fixtures wear out and are replaced.

And if the clock tower is something entirely new despite the salvaged stone and faithfully recreated design, well, it may come to be valued in its own right one day.

The White House visited and photographed by tourists from around the world today is, in fact, a copy built after British troops burned the original during the War of 1812.

"They just had to build it again,'' Mr. Dustin said.

Contact reporter Thomas Caywood at tcaywood@telegram.com or follow on Twitter @ThomasCaywood
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Caywood, Thomas
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Oct 3, 2014
Words:856
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