Resembling a giant wind-up toy set for an energetic race at high noon, the Louisville Clock or Derby Clock designed by local sculptor Barney Bright has now been painstakingly restored thanks in large part to local businessman Adam Burckle, owner of Adam Matthews, Inc. cheesecake company. Now that restoration work is winding down and the clock ready to be wound up, a site for the clock may have tentatively been found.
History of the Louisville Clock
Originally commissioned in 1970 to fill a prominent spot on the River City Mall, a pedestrian plaza on what’s now Fourth Street once hoped to revitalize Downtown Louisville, the clock was finally dedicated in December of 1976. Although widely lauded and loved by onlookers, the clock was plagued by mechanical problems and the ill-conceived pedestrian mall failed. The clock was moved to Guthrie Street when the mall was removed and later to the entrance of Kentucky Kingdom. In 1993 the clock was dismantled and distributed to various sites in the city.
In 2004, Burckle’s Adam Matthews Foundation took control of the clock and moved all the pieces to Bowman Field where restoration work commenced. Years later and with the help of countless volunteers, the work on the Louisville Clock is largely finished and Burckle has been looking around for a prominent site on which to display the landmark piece of folk art.
Two sites originally proposed were rejected on grounds that the clock would not fit with pre-existing master plans: the Arena and Waterfront Park. Burckle has been working with the city to find another suitable location and is currently in discussions with the Louisville Zoo to place the clock somewhere at the facility, most likely outside the front gate.
While placing the Louisville Clock at the Louisville Zoo is certainly not a poor choice, I believe a much more prominent location is desirable. Adam Burckle should be the major decision maker for the location, of course, due to his efforts in restoring such an important piece of local art, but a site must be chosen very carefully after so much hard work has been poured into the clock.
In my opinion, a location at the zoo could bring a good deal of exposure to the clock, but there are many issues that should be considered. First, the zoo is largely a destination spot in a not-so-walkable part of Louisville. Why not find a spot where someone could turn a corner stumble carelessly upon the delightful clock in addition to those who intentionally seek it out? A place would be desirable if many people from all walks of life and all age groups could view it on a regular basis, not just on trips to the zoo.
If located outside the zoo’s gates, it would allow people to visit the clock without paying zoo admission, but wouldn’t be part of the majority of time spent by visitors inside the zoo. In addition, it seems unlikely that one would stop by during the zoo’s non-operational hours, and certainly not late at night. In a purely selfish argument, I personally might visit the zoo once or more times a year, but would find it hard to justify stopping by just to take a look at the clock, especially when its signature races are time specific.
I’m not sure if the site has been considered, but I propose returning the Louisville Clock to Downtown near the site of its inception. Actually, in a place the clock once called home: the Guthrie Green. Not only would the location be in a prominent public space on one of Louisville’s most important streets, the clock could help unite development that’s been ongoing on Fourth Street from 4st Street Live to Broadway. This location is certainly walkable, often quite lively, and accessible at all hours. The currently uninspiring Guthrie Green could certainly benefit from a whimsical touch of folk art that would encourage gathering.
Such a location as the Guthrie Green is laden with symbolism. The sculpture was originally commissioned as a rejuvenating force for Downtown. The River City Mall and the Louisville Clock suffered along with Downtown through the 1970s and 1980s, but now that Louisville is turning an important corner and appears be well on its way back, placing the clock on the Green would be a symbol to which the city could easily point. It would say, in a way, that the last 30 years on Fourth Street counted for something more than the memories of the defunct pedestrian street and Galleria.
This is just my proposal for a site that would appropriately honor the Louisville Clock and everything it means to the city. Whichever location is eventually chosen can still be considered a win since the clock will be up and running and available to see. For that, we all owe a great debt to Adam Burckle and all the volunteers who have worked to restore the clock.
- The Louisville Clock (Official Site)