Save Ocean Beach focus is now boardwalk clock tower

The lattice metal light tower, with a large osprey nest visible in the top section, stands in the parking lot at Ocean Beach Park. Members of the volunteer group Save Ocean Beach want to raise money to have the lattice light tower moved to the boardwalk to recreate the former clock tower.
The lattice metal light tower, with a large osprey nest visible in the top section, stands in the parking lot at Ocean Beach Park. Members of the volunteer group Save Ocean Beach want to raise money to have the lattice light tower moved to the boardwalk to recreate the former clock tower. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo

Dave Sugrue has no doubt that if members of Save Ocean Beach want to re-create the iconic clock tower that once stood at the center of the Ocean Beach Park boardwalk, they will do it.

"These people have heart and soul,'' said Sugrue, the beach manager. "They want to restore the beach to the way it was, and if this is what they want to do, it will get done."

The SOBs, as they refer to themselves, are looking for city permission to put up a four-legged lattice tower on the boardwalk, similar to a 100-foot one that stood on the same spot when the beach opened following the 1938 Hurricane. The original galvanized steel tower came down around 1989, when the city attempted to make repairs. Parts of it crashed into the boardwalk and it was never replaced.

The SOB's idea is to take down the light tower in the middle of the parking lot, which also is part of the original design of the beach, and move it to the boardwalk. Eventually, the group would look for a clock manufacturer to install clock faces on the tower in exchange for free advertising.

"It's a part of history,'' said Tom Quintin, SOB president. "Our goal has always been to restore the beach."

The clock tower, which used to be on navigational charts, according to Sugrue, told the time in four directions. It was a meeting place for beachgoers and a landmark for giving directions. Music, live animal acts, polka dances and beauty pageants were among the free public events staged at the foot of the clock tower.

Twenty years ago as the city prepared to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the beach, a decision was made to take down the clock tower, address some maintenance issues, and then put it back up. But because of miscalculations as to the weight of the clocks and a crane that could not handle the load, the tower was destroyed. The galvanized steel of the tower itself was kept in the beach parking lot for about a year, until it disappeared.

Sugrue, who was a chef in the Gam building at the time, saw the crisis unfold.

"It was like watching a bad movie,'' he recently recalled. "I couldn't look away."

When the crane operators realized the structure was too heavy for the crane, they decided to move it in two parts. A worker scaled the tower, and cut the supports that kept the clocks attached to the lattice legs. But that proved also to be too heavy for the crane and the clock crashed into the boardwalk. The crane bucked and the driver's face smacked into the window, Sugrue said.

The worker on the lattice, which had already been unbolted at the base, was hanging on and later told Sugrue he was "looking for a soft place to land.'' He made it down unhurt but the tower never stood again.

What happened to the metal is the subject of urban legend. It could be in someone's barn. It could have been sold for scrap. The city has no record of where it went, Sugrue said.

Sugrue said the light tower in the parking lot eventually will have to come down because the base is eroding. The lights have not been used for years, he said, for fear of a possible fire or hurting the ospreys that nest there.

"They're magnificent,' Sugrue said of the ospreys. "We all look for them in mid-March to come back."

But, he added, the birds are an "attractive nuisance."

"You don't want to draw people to walk around a busy parking lot,'' he said.

If an effort to keep the osprey returning to the beach, SOB, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and Connecticut Light & Power erected a new nesting platform last spring 340 feet from the light tower, on the edge of Alewife Cove. Osprey often perch on the platform but have not nested there yet.

Quintin said bringing the clock tower back to the beach has been something his group has wanted to do since 2005. But they focused instead on other infrastructure problems. Over the years, the group of about 60 volunteers has collected about $750,000 through fundraisers and grants. Their projects have included a nature walk along the cove, a children's playground and water park, new fixtures in the bathrooms and replacing the boardwalk.

Moving the tower would cost the SOBs about $40,000 - which the volunteer group plans to raise. The City Council has yet to act on the SOB's request, but if and when the volunteers get the go-ahead, they plan to immediately begin their fundraising.

K.EDGECOMB@THEDAY.COM

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