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Custom House Tower clock ticks after two weeks of silence

The inside of the famous clock atop Custom House Tower, which shows correct time once again.Jim Davis/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

It took David Hochstrasser only a one-handed push to awaken the massive cast iron giant that lay dormant for the past two weeks.

Boston’s historic Custom House Tower clock — one of the largest clocks in the world — clunked alive, as the various gears and levers that keep the piece ticking responded to Hochstrasser’s push.

“It’s remarkably simple,” Hochstrasser explained Wednesday as he stood atop a glass case that holds the clock’s 150-pound pendulum, which powers the skyscraper timepiece.

The four-sided, colorful clock, located 325 feet high, atop the Marriott Custom House at 3 McKinley Square, took a rare hibernation for the past two weeks as workers made repairs to the outside of the building’s upper levels.


“We had workers propelling and didn’t want the ropes to get caught in the hands of the clock,” said Willie Nagda, the hotel’s general manager.

The clock’s early summer break is the first time in nearly three decades that the iconic symbol of Boston has been stopped deliberately, but it was not the first time that those walking below in the Financial District glanced up and were thrown off schedule.

Accumulations of New England snow or ice on any of the clock’s 11 ½-foot-long minute hands can bring time screeching to a halt, and prompt a call from hotel management to Hochstrasser, the bespectacled clock technician. Sometimes, especially as the timepiece’s hands near the top of their rotation, a strong gust of wind can bring the mechanism to a stop.

“I find myself out here a lot during the winter,” said Hochstrasser, who routinely repairs and oils the clock’s control center, located on the Marriott’s 24th floor.

Hochstrasser doesn’t mind the maintenance work. After all, he designed the system.

The clock was originally completed along with the rest of the tower in 1919.Towering above the city conjoined to one of Boston’s only skyscrapers at the time, the clock served as a central timepiece for those working and living in the Financial District.


But even as passersby went about their daily lives around its tick-tock, the time was inexact on the panels.

The original infrastructure was designed to support a much smaller clock, said Hochstrasser, who said the Custom House timepiece rivals London’s Big Ben in size.

“There are few clocks on this planet that are larger,” he said.

In 1985, with financial support from Boston Edison, Hochstrasser and his brother Ross began fixing the clock. They centralized the four faces around one internal mechanism — keeping each side of the clock relatively in-sync, with each face varying by a minute or two.

Renovating the clock’s inner workings — and getting clearance from the city, which at that time owned the clock — took two years. On Oct. 29, 1987, the Custom House clock was officially and finally restarted.

When the Marriott purchased the tower in the late 1990s, Hochstrasser was charged with re-modeling the clock’s inner workings to allow for an elevator shaft. Today, his intricate clock system is surrounded by the hotel’s game and laundry room.

Thursday night’s awakening was to much less fanfare than the clock’s first rebirth nearly 25 years ago. But for Hochstrasser, the sound of each tick rings just as sweetly as the first.

“The beauty is in the simplicity,” he said. “

Wesley Lowery can be reached at wesley.lowery@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.